Beirut have always been all about Europe. Ever since Zach Condon started mingling electronica and indie-rock with traditional East-European music, his little band has been redolent of the old world.
And though "The Flying Club Cup" has a more modern flavour to some of its songs, the feeling of wistful, melancholy nostalgia still hangs heavily over these exquisitely orchestrated pop tunes. Think early twentieth-century France, as seen through sepia photographs and a band's sad tunes.
It opens with a haunting chorus of wailing horns, before switching to the smooth, swaying melody of "Nantes." Condon sings mournfully, "Well it's been a long time/long time now/since I've seen you smile/and I'll gamble away my fright... and in a year, a year or so/this will slip into the sea..."
It's much the same throughout the remaining songs, which tend to be bittersweet in tone, with a backdrop of horns and stately pop rhythms. Mellow dance tunes, Eastern European marches, mournful accordion-piano ballads, and pretty folky tunes. Not to mention, of course, combinations of all of the above.
In the second half, we're even graced with some upbeat songs -- the twittering violin and swirling melody of "In The Mausoleum." And the sprightliest music on the album is "Un Dernier Verre (Pour La Route)," a peppy pop tune that sounds like something Snoopy would dance to as the World War I flying ace.
If I were to compare Condon and Beirut to any other artist, it would probably be Sufjan Stevens -- polished, multilayered music with rich vocals. But the music of "The Flying Club Cup" is all nostalgia, bittersweet and weariness, mingled with a rich, over-the-top quality. It's so much BIGGER than Beirut's past work -- in sound, in scope, in feeling.
Not to mention that the sound here is a bit less Balkan -- think electro-indie mingled with vintage pop melodies, then filtered through an old French radio. Lots of mellow accordion, mingled brass, rattling drums and tambourine, an acoustic guitar, some twittery fiddle melodies and a nimble, energetic piano. Here are there, a gentle layer of keyboard is laid over it all.
Condon's voice is the clincher -- this guy is not only a great musician, but he has a smooth, rich voice that slides through the music like a satin ribbon. And his songs are evocative and stirring ("A plague on the workhouse!"), with plenty of feeling ("what melody will lead my lover from his bed?/What melody will see him in my arms again?").
Beirut's second album is a stunning artistic triumph, draped in classic melodies, exquisite songwriting and sweeping instrumentation. "The Flying Club Cup" flies on its own.