At KAIST, it’s not uncommon to find yourself working day after day, constantly fulfilling each task just for more to pile up again. It’s not that you feel so bad that you want to throw it all away; you’re just bored and tired of the seemingly endless routine that has become your life. If this is the case, perhaps Beirut’s The Flying Club Cup could be the fresh breeze you need in your drought-like, suffocating afternoon.
Beirut, formed in 2006, is a solo project by Zach Condon, a high school dropout who was brought up in the US but spent a significant part of his life touring around Europe. So far, he has released three studio albums: Gulag Orkestar, The Flying Club Cup and The Rip Tide. The albums mirror Condon’s vagabond lifestyle in that they are strongly flavored with eastern European music, known as Balkan music, as well as hints of folk, gypsy and American indie rock. With each album that Condon has released, his music arrangements have gotten simpler and have more resemblance to classical pop music. Thus out of the three, The Flying Club Cup seems to have the most appropriate mix between the two musical styles.
The name of the album was inspired by a photo of a hot air balloon festival in Paris. Apparently it was one of the first photos to be taken and printed in color, and Condon said of the photo, “it was the most surreal image I’d seen in a long time.” Similar to the story behind the album name, the CD cover is a beach scene, possibly the south of France, in a faded sepia tone that triggers imaginative nostalgia and reminiscence. It is one of those covers from which you can sense what type of music will be on the CD just by looking at the artwork. In the CD booklet, the same sepia-toned photos are each coupled with fictitious diary entries by Condon written in the perspective of the people in the photo.
Similar to the uniqueness of the album artwork, if you haven’t heard of Beirut before then Condon’s music will certainly be new and different. A multi-instrumentalist, Condon incorporates a variety of wind and brass instruments such as trumpets, accordions, French horns and euphoniums. These heavy, chunky sounds are balanced by intricate string arrangements and upbeat percussions that give the songs some speed.
In an almost opera-like voice, Condon sings very deep and uses a lot of vibrato, a style of singing in which the singer deliberately puts slight variations in pitch to produce a richer sound. Although the low tone usually creates a serious mood, there are hints of laziness in Condon’s voice, similar to that of Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. In most of the songs, Condon layers multiple vocal recordings together to give a fuller, much grander sound. And in this voice, he sings simple, romantic lines in both English and French. He usually describes romantic relationships by drawing dramatic scenes of lovers. The lyrics are certainly not complex or sophisticated; they might even feel too straightforward or direct had it not been for Condon’s deep and interesting voice.
Beirut’s music has a strange way of making you feel like you are actually in France, even if you’ve never been there before. This album is much more than a dozen or so songs recorded on a CD. It brings listeners to imagine themselves waltzing down the streets of Paris, relaxing on the beaches or falling in love with the person you met in the park. Sometimes you become a general who weeps for his fallen comrades despite victory, and sometimes you become a poor mother setting up the dinner table for her children.
Another unusual aspect about The Flying Club Cup is that each track has its own music video. They are not produced in a studio like regular music videos, but are recorded on the streets of Paris and other cities in France. Called the “Take Away Show,” the series of recordings are Condon and the rest of the band actually playing on the streets with their instruments. For example, the video for “Nantes” is filmed outside a restaurant, using the trashcans to create drumbeats as people enjoy the band’s music while having lunch or a cup of coffee.
Condon also has the ability to abstractly describe those precious afternoons when for a change your class ended early or the professor didn’t show up. The warm sunlight gently tickles your skin while you are sitting outside with your friends, and although you’ll still have work to do later on in the evening, it is one of those rare times when you can relax and enjoy the weather without doing anything productive. You realize that it is not life-changing incidents that give you hope but these short, seemingly insignificant moments that help you go on despite difficulties. Somehow, listening to this album even while walking to class helps you, or at least temporarily tricks you into feeling good. Beirut’s The Flying Club Cup is a dangerously romantic album to help anyone who needs to fall in love with life again.