Tucked away in a war-ridden corner of Europe lies a sense of music that has been as regrettably forgotten as the people and places that lie there. The Balkan powder keg has been kept in a dark shack in the basement of the world’s concerns for the past 100 years, with the lands being fought on and over, used for territorial power and intimidation, but never appreciated for the joy that can be found below the nationalism, wars, genocide, and politics. It has had gleaming glimpses of notice in the past, but never having made waves, washed into the undertow of the global culture. Zach Condon threw it a lifesaver, and resurrected the jubilance of Eastern European music in Beirut’s Gulag Orkestar.
Zach Condon, a sixteen year old from Albuquerque, went to Europe. He stayed there, almost forgetting about his Albuquerque life, and started living without care, sure of something to come, like a child playing with toys in a doctor’s waiting room. Fond of music, he had written and recorded some “bedroom projects” back in his old life. While in Europe, he was introduced to the sound that would later inspire Gulag Orkestar, and finally was called in to see the doctor.
Gulag Orkestar is filed with images of drunken and quixotic conga lines parading through the edified phalanx of modern music. The opening track “Gulag Orkestar” introduces itself with a boisterous belch of horns, coming full force in a manner charmed for its lack thereof. It would seem that there must be a huge band behind the mic, a riotous group of drunkards who just so happened to find an empty recoding studio that they could party in for a couple of songs, but it’s just Condon. With the exception of helping hands from A Hawk and a Hacksaw members Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost on some of the tracks, Condon’s energy was enough to fill an album. “Bandenburg” is great testament to this energy, with a swift mandolin riff introduction to lead into. Even some of the more seemingly sedated songs burst with the speaker’s spirit. On “Rhineland (Heartland)” Condon wails like a fisherman gliding along the Rhine River with a World War of a backdrop.
Zach Condon has shown the world something with Gulag Orkestar that sometimes goes forgotten, and at some of the most inopportune times. Yet it’s likely that Gulag Orkestar will stand the test of time itself, pervading through even the worst.
Seth Kaufman – Ting
DeVotchKa – Curse Your Little Heart
Kurt Weill/ Bertolt Brecht – Threepenny Opera