ARTS

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February 17, 2009

Shortcuts—Beirut's March of the Zapotec/Holland

What’s most striking about Beirut’s new double EP March of the Zapotec/Holland is its dual nature. Those familiar with the dense, brassy sound of the band’s first few albums and EPs will feel right at home with March of the Zapotec, the first part of its latest work. However, this side of the EP falls short of the lush sound of the band’s previous records, and can be a tedious listen for fans. But the EP doesn’t stand out because of its familiarity. The other side, Holland, recorded by frontman Zach Condon under the pseudonym Realpeople, is what keeps March/Holland from being just another Beirut record.It seems as if Condon fashioned the structure of March/Holland after the idea of a vinyl record. March of the Zapotec and Holland show two different sides of Condon, which is a relief. There is no denying the enchanting swirl of Beirut’s gypsy dirges, whether inspired by Balkan folk music or a 19-member funeral band from Oaxaca, but after hearing it on two full-length releases and numerous EPs, it began to feel like the band didn’t just have a singular sound—it had a single sound.This seemed like a shame because Condon is a gifted musician. Part of the hype surrounding him is his youth; he was only a teenager when Beirut’s first full-length album, Gulag Orkestar, met critical acclaim. Continuing to produce solid records with a familiar sound is all well and good, but had this pattern continued, it would have made his career pretty linear. This is not to dismiss the talent on March. One standout track on this side is “The Akara,” which lets off of the demanding brass and gives Condon’s vocals a more prominent place in the mix.Even so, the real strength of this double EP is its B-side. Holland is a series of electronic tracks recorded in Condon’s bedroom. It did him a lot of good to step away from the gypsy caravan and sit down somewhere with an outlet. The first track is immediately compelling. “My Night With the Prostitute from Marseille” starts with gentle synthesizers, and Condon’s deep voice gently eases into the song. A subtle drum track gives it more forward momentum, but Condon clearly carries the song. This pattern carries through the remaining four tracks, and his Stephin Merritt-esque croon (although slightly deeper and less depressed) is allowed to stand out on these tracks. The bottom line is March is a shot of the stuff you’re used to but Holland will really wake you up.