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For all Beirut’s pretense of pessimism, Gallipoli’s driving force seems to be joy in music. You can feel it in the lush overtones, the sunny brass lines celebrating coastal Italian cities.
Beirut have an innately appealing metropolitanism about them. From their broader Euro-vagabond aesthetic to their musical choices, listening to a Beirut album should feel akin to a sepia-toned starry-eyed drift through Europe, or at least watching The Grand Budapest Hotel and crying afterwards. Gallipoli is a stunning return to form for the band four years after No No No saw Beirut take a more grounded detour into pop.
Gallipoli leans decidedly into Beirut’s well established folk past. While No No No certainly wasn’t lacking in brassy melodic lines, Zach Condon’s tremolo laden vocal passages, or other Beirut mainstays, their framing on the album was much different. With Gallipoli we get a much more cohesive album. Where No No No was a set of mostly upbeat songs without a particular connection, Gallipoli presents a moving tapestry that undulates from the bittersweet nostalgia of a faded photograph and builds to a musically dense and sentimental conclusion.
Gallipoli is, more briefly, a deeply cathartic experience for any listener with a heart.
Right from the onset Gallipoli treats listeners to “When I Die,” a short, airy tune that foregrounds Zach Condon’s legato vocals and fortifies them with an absolutely lush brass arrangement. If pastoral French landscapes had a sonic form, it would be the horns on this song. There is a melancholy here, especially lyrically, though like much Beirut is cut with the summer levity of a day on the Mediterranean shore. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Condon describes how “When I Die” informed the tone of the rest of the album:
“I went deep into the sounds to bring out all the overtones and creaks and distortions. It was meant to be a cathartic image of the ‘end.’ The big fears, the doubts[…]I measured every song sonically against this one for the rest of the recordings.”
Condon’s attention to detail delivers palpably in a number of the songs on Gallipoli. “When I Die” is but one instance of Condon’s menagerie of sonic digging. From the brass arrangements on “Gallipoli,” the farfisa organ that imparts its strange harmonics and flavor on “On Mainau Island,” the trancelike second half of “We Never Lived Here,” it’s clear that Condon took a deep sonic dive into every facet of the album to squeeze out as much flavor as possible. The payoff resonates in every nook and cranny of Gallipoli.
In fact, that attention to detail is how Beirut get so much out of so little. Lyrically, there isn’t a whole lot here. Most songs have a few lines on repeat and maybe a vague structure that the instrumentals inform, but there’s hardly a verse-chorus-bridge to be found. It helps then that Condon’s voice expresses emotion so viscerally, and the fugue like trade offs with harmonizing vocals and trumpet-trombone melodies comes through beautifully. Beirut’s choice to lean into the Balkan folk aspects of brass playing create nearly unmatched lushness in the folk sphere.
Gallipoli also makes some unexpected instrumental choices that almost verge on psychedelic, and it’s a better album for these choices. The end of “Gauze Fur Zah” for instance consists of a space-like trip through a solid minute and a half of light percussion and eccentric harmonics. “Corfu” is an instrumental that plays with dissonance and “Fin,” another instrumental, takes one idea and evolves it until its eventual fade out – appropriate for a song named as it is.
“When I Die” is a hell of a way to start an album while “We Never Lived Here” and “Fin” are a hell of a couplet to finish on, but somehow Gallipoli gives off a profound optimism. Of the title track, Condon said, “It felt to me like a cathartic mix of all the old and new records and seemed to return me to the old joys of music as a visceral experience.”
This can be felt throughout the album. For all its pretense of pessimism, Gallipoli’s driving force seems to be joy in music. You can feel it in the lush overtones, the sunny brass lines celebrating coastal Italian cities. The only part of Gallipoli telling you it’s dark are the lyrics themselves, almost like Condon wears a disguise, hoping not to crack a luminous smile.
“We Never Lived Here” and “Fin” – the couplet at the end of the album – break this rule and impart a gravity unlike the rest of the album. As it happens, these two songs create a resonant catharsis that makes a perfect ending pair to Gallipoli. Listen to them for yourself – you won’t regret a minute of Beirut’s latest offering.