Beirut: The Flying Club Cap
This is the second Beirut album in little over a year, and in the short time the band has been in the public eye they have travelled the world; through the choked back-streets of Istanbul, the bitter winters of Russia and the picturesque landscape of Poland. Over that time they have seemingly soaked up a world of knowledge and experience and fuelled in straight into this record – ‘The Flying Cup’.
For the new album the band have moved their sound from the souks of the Middle East to the flower filled streets of Paris. There is also a new sense of optimism and genuine joy flowing through the recording – while it sounds thoroughly modern and polished; it is also timeless and beautiful. No other band sounds like this in popular culture at present, mixing a real depth of musical understanding with a keen ear for ear catching melodies. The star of the show is one Zach Condon. Recording songs since he was fifteen, his work has a charismatic, cinematic grandeur. He has has a voice and ability that belie his diminutive years. Powerful, wondrous melodies spring from all directions on ‘The Flying Cup’, leaving the listener dazzled with delight.
Opener ‘A Call to Arms’ sets the tone immediately. The bass is pure and crisp, waltzing through the damp streets at dawn with the love of your life, the horn blare in a controlled frenzy and Condon sings with the weight of the ages. The content is regret, but the tune is joy – a ballad of love. The group also makes the most of their expanded ranks. While ‘Gulag Orchestra’ was a solo effort augmented on the road, ‘The Flying Cup’ is Beirut’s first group album proper and all the talents are employed to give body to Condon’s ideas.
This is an album to be enjoyed as a whole. ‘Nantes’ and ‘A Sunday Smile’ flow past like a striking stream, glinting and promising so much, but only revealing their full flavour on closer inspection. Ostensibly ‘The Flying Cup’ is based on a photograph dating from 1910 of a hot air balloon taking off from the base of the Eiffel Tower – and while is retains a certain Parisian air, it is difficult to determine how much of that photographs doubtlessly enigmatic charm remains on the recording. ‘Guyamas Sonora’ is another cacophonic delight for the sense with a touch of Jacques Brel among others.
Next ‘Cliquot’ employs the familiar tones of nostalgia and affection, swirling and dancing among the fountains of a fine country house. This is wine for the flavour and not the effect, requiring a deep understanding to appreciate to the full. Indeed, the record was partially recoded in Albuquerque – in a space shared with kindred spirits A Hawk and a Hacksaw, and those is even more noteworthy got capturing the spirit of a place so distant. Each instrument is defined and immaculate among an enveloping whirlwind of noise. ‘The Penalty’ is another honeyed slice of universal longing, filled to the brim with worn on sleeve emotion.
‘The Flying Cup’ is a controlled effort, showing a real depth of understanding by a man still not reaching his twenty second birthday. Not only is it a development from the first album, it is superior; an ornate, rococo wonder and also deeply rewarding and increasingly so with further listens. It ebbs and flows with masterly poise, at times elegant and aloof, and others swooning in your arms; superb.