Who: Multi-instrumentalist Zach Condon, a twenty-one-year-old musical prodigy from New Mexico who dropped out of high school and headed to Europe, where a nutty neighbor exposed him to the old-fashioned Balkan sounds that would influence Gulag Orkestrar, his 2006 album that blew bloggers’ minds.
Sounds Like: Beirut’s folk-rock evokes lazy strolls down European back alleys via a delightfully unpolished blend of Condon’s supple tenor voice, accordion, brass and strings. It’s not hard to detect the influences of Gypsy rock and the orchestral rackets of Elephant 6 bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, either.
Three Things You Should Know:
1. Condon’s big break came when he was working as an ice-cream scooper. “I dropped out of school at sixteen,” he says. “I went back four times, though some of them were as long as one day. I went to the University of New Mexico for about a month when I got a very strange phone call from Ben Goldberg who owns Ba Da Bing! Records, and he said he wanted to release my album. I was going to class that day and I turned around and went home and got the next flight to New York.”
2. Beirut’s second full-length album The Flying Club Cup was recorded in Condon’s home state and Quebec, where Arcade Fire violinist Owen Pallett (a.k.a. Final Fantasy) traded string arrangements for Neon Bible for two free weeks in the band’s church studio. “We lost our minds for a couple of weeks, shut off from the world in this little church up till four, five in the morning,” Condon recalls. “I’d sleep for a couple of hours and wake up to the sound of violins and drums.” The Arcade Fire folks, as well as onetime Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes, are Condon pals now.
3. Condon’s first instrument was the trumpet (he has horns tattooed on both wrists), and he was so “absolutely obsessed” with doo-wop and Motown as a kid that he even made a doo-wop album. “One of my earliest memories I have of music is my dad and his two brothers would sing old doo-wop songs together. He gave me his old Frankie and the Teenagers album and I fell in love with it and thought this is it, this is the music I want to do. [My doo-wop album] has never been released, but there are some really hilarious great tracks from it that I still listen to myself, in secret.”
Get It: The Flying Club Cup came out October 9th, and samples are of course available on the band’s MySpace page (which deliberately misspells the band name in the url).