The picture, stashed away in a SPIN Magazine article on “Gypsy Rock,” features Beirut mastermind Zach Condon playing the trumpet in the thick of a group of ramshackle musicians. There’s an accordion player, a French horn, a violinist, and a dude playing a snare drum that hangs from his neck. They’re assembled in front of an industrial building on a New York sidewalk, possibly near the sea. And the question the picture raises is the exact question that Beirut’s debut album, Gulag Orkestar, asks; it’s the question that brims from the best places of 2006, and it’s this: Isn’t this exactly where we want music to be? Zach Condon crafted an album in his basement so specific and universal that his “little Balkan project” became one of the breakthrough albums of 2006. If you don’t think “Postcards From Italy” is one of the most devastating songs of the year, you haven’t heard it. With its cascading trumpets and marching drums, Condon’s voice swallowing itself in a fit of nostalgia—this is a wedding song, a transcender. Elsewhere, Beirut sneaks rolling synths and a new wave sensibility into “Scenic World.” Even the Balkan-est of the songs feel honest and earned. Not bad for a kid from New Mexico. But most importantly, Gulag Orkestar proves we’re living in a world where you can truly make the music that you want to make, and it will find its audience. My grandfather’s one man band, Clyde’s Combo, has heard the news, and is gearing up for a takeover.
-Marty Brown, 2006
There's not much more quality Balkan rock out there, but for another band pushing to
make the regional sound universal, look to Band of Horses' debut album,
Everything All The Time.