Zach Condon doesn’t know what you’re going to make of the new Beirut album, a record plagued by mental health, and one that bypasses the fantasy sounds of his early adventures in Europe
Zach Condon always looked like a World War II evacuee. Cherub-faced, porcelain-skinned, wavy of hair, in a tidy blazer and open-neck shirt, there he stood, as if on the platform of a country village railway station, with a musical instrument from another time tucked under his arm – a trumpet or a French horn or a ukulele. In 2006, when he released ‘Gulag Orkestar’ – his first album as Beirut – no other act at the coalface of new millennial indie looked or sounded remotely like him, and Condon’s singular and complete vision (and fantasy) has endured on a diet of uniqueness and self-imposed pressure. Even when he was buddied up with other non-dance-punk acts of the day, like Arcade Fire, Final Fantasy and Patrick Wolf, it was only earthy, old country instruments that they really shared in common – nobody else was utilising pianos, accordions, strings and a hell of a lot of brass to make Balkan folk and Sicilian funeral music. The only records that have resembled ‘Gulag Orkestar’ since are Beirut’s following two albums and his clutch of EPs.
Condon is now 29 and still lives in Brooklyn where his project began in earnest, although as a young American obsessed with Europe he’s spent plenty of time away from his adopted hometown. He looks less like a paragon of virtue hiding out from the Luftwaffe these days, although his perfect mop of hair is still a style (and non-style) of its own, and he still looks good in a shirt with buttons. His three-day stubble tells the story of his last three years, which haven’t been easy, and he arrives at his new practice studio in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, as you’d imagine anyone else to who’s suffered from chronic insomnia their whole life – squinting into 10am white light and introducing himself in a low, slow register that lingers for our few hours together.
Later this month, Beirut will release his (or, more so than ever this time around, their) fourth album, but ‘No No No’ has been no walk in the park – “More like a frozen waterfall and an ice pick and snow cleats climb,” says Condon.