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Album Review: Beirut - Gallipoli


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Beirut prove themselves citizens of the world on this album of diverse influences ranging from European traditions, Latin music and Zach Condon's native Americana.

Beirut - Gallipoli

Gallipoli, the fifth studio album from the Condon-led collective, takes its name from the second track, which was written in this Italian town and has nothing to do with the First World War battle fought there between 1915 and 1916. It’s a record cinematic in scope reflecting Condon’s previous experience as a film composer for 2011’s Bombay Beach and this expansiveness is expressed on the opening track ‘When I Die’, which swirls and swells into a beautifully rich sound.

A wonderfully warm brass band invites us into the world of the title track, which came out prior to the album’s release. It’s a sublime song that perfectly sets the tone for the record ahead. Although it luxuriates and lingers, it never drags and is driven on by busy percussion and quasi-military snares. This is not to mention Condon’s impeccably expressive baritone voice, the melody of which, complemented by the harmony of his fellow band members, teases out the listener’s interest in this mid-tempo track.

‘Varieties of Exile’ follows ‘Gallipoli’ and on this song, we are treated to these gorgeous vocals in isolation in a sparse intro accompanied by strumming mandolins. There is little lyrical content apart from a thorough exploration of all available vowels in the English language. Melodically, however, this is made up for by the refreshing use of counterpoint.

Beginning with the screeching and distortion of a retro synthesiser’s arpeggio pattern, ‘On Mainau Island’ is perhaps one of the most sonically interesting pieces on the album. It features some weird percussion, heavily employing bells and crashing and scraping noises. As an instrumental interlude, it serves the purpose of evoking the imagination sufficiently without the need for words. Through sound alone, we are invited to contemplate the surrounding watery vastness of Lake Constance.

‘Gauze für Zah’ is another album highlight and its jazzy approach to rhythmic interplay is partly reminiscent of the newly re-united Bombay Bicycle Club. Its sound palette consists of shakers, double bass and a blend of vocal harmony in which each voice lends its own unique timbre to the overall effect. This track is supremely well recorded, and its fullness drops out at around the three-and-a-half-minute mark to give way to mournful synth pads and ambient noise crafted equally as subtly.

Some spice is injected into the by turns village hall and indie folk record in the bossa nova beat of ‘Corfu’ whose syncopated piano chords chip in on the off-beat. There is so much going on in this instrumental which ends with some wailing recorders.

The penultimate track ‘We Never Lived Here’ features lovely brass arpeggios, which imitate what is more often achieved by programming synthesisers these days, showing how much can be done with acoustic instruments alone. ‘Fin’ aptly concludes the album with its ascending synth pattern and incorporation of steel drums in the manner of Jamie xx.

Gallipoli is a product of high-class musicianship which tastefully brings together genres across geographical borders. Although perhaps lacking in a compelling lyrical thread, this is more than made up for in the sumptuous soundscapes created with voices and expressive brass.

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