Gallipoli is a mature work, a feat for an artist already so adept at making music born out of steeping oneself in their sonic passions.
Straddling the world of modern indie rock and exuding an old world charm, Zach Condon’s Beirut is a band that stands outside of time. Condon has shifted directions thoroughly over its existence, swinging from 19-piece Mexican brass band on the March of the Zapotec EP to the stripped-back, ‘70s AM radio textures of 2015’s No No No, all while keeping the band’s aesthetic pillars entirely intact. It’s reductive to refer to bands like Beirut (or, for that matter, other Balkan folk-indebted acts like A Hawk & A Hacksaw or DeVotchKa) as sepia-toned, but it’s apt, effortlessly invoking the spirit of an underappreciated musical history to keep those traditions alive in some form. Gallipoli, the first Beirut record since No No No, lacks the stripped-back, almost threadbare construction of its predecessor. With just five musicians playing seven instruments, it feels like a return to the inviting climates of The Rip Tide.
No No No felt like the work of an artist once plagued by the constraints of his own musical hunger and quitting his beloved trumpet almost cold turkey in favor of piano, using brass as a precision tool instead of an IKEA hex key. That complicated relationship with the trumpet seems to have sorted itself out here, the bright timbre a welcome return and the organ and synthesizers reappearing in more fleshed-out form. Atop everything, his woozy, aching voice still reigns supreme, once again proving him to be one of indie rock’s most talented crooners. There’s also a noticeable fascination with drum machine beats, and while many of Beirut’s songs require a deep, rich drum element, “Family Curse” devotes its first half entirely to the instrument before it’s replaced by a live drummer. The electronic beat is high enough in the mix for you to get addicted to it quickly, and the moment where the drummer takes over is one of the best endorphin rushes on the album.
Gallipoli is a mature work, a feat for an artist already so adept at making music born out of steeping oneself in their sonic passions. Opener “When I Die” is the most anthem-like song here, but designed for concert halls rather than festival grounds, inexplicably good at bringing tears to your eyes just by its sound.
The record is packed full of moments like elicit a physical reaction. The sun-washed “Varieties in Exile” has an ebb and flow that makes it indispensable, making you think it’s over twice and leaving you with this leap in your chest every time the track springs back to life. Producer Gabe Wax, who was responsible for No No No, here adapts the small-room sound of that album to bigger songs. The short, playfully glitchy “On Mainau Island,” the sweeping scale of “When I Die” and the ‘70s soft rock vibes of “Gauze Für Zah” all sound equally intimate, making this the best headphones-worthy album of the year, and the best sounding Beirut album yet.
Condon traverses his fields of expertise with more zeal than ever, and while there are few moments that have the sweeping feeling present in so much of Beirut’s music, much of Gallipoli holds itself back. The restraint here is one of most enjoyable elements at play, leaving you waiting for any given song to burst at the seams, but forcing you to get comfortable that this never happens. “Landslide,” with its echoing piano and electric organ, take this a step further, hinting at a huge finale before cutting out with a thud. In lesser hands this would feel like too much of a tease, but the way the song builds keeps it from feeling like a ruined climax and instead playfully drops out, leaving you begging for more.
Yet for Gallipoli, and Condon, those massive moments are simply less pressing than a more patient grandeur, as though he’s aiming for something more stately than anthemic. Even the two-minute “Fin” uses its closing slot to play us out and simply fade away. No No No’s no-frills aesthetics now seem like a reset button for a group that’s reemerged with a more assured leader. Even better, he seems less shackled by the global influences that dominated so much of his work, enabling him to deconstruct and repurpose all of his great strengths, giving us an album of confident and inviting songs that feel lived-in and wonderfully fresh.