Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: March of the Zapotec/Holland by Beirut

March of the Zapotec/Holland (2xEP)
Ba Da Bing Records
Release Date: February 17, 2009

Radiohead decided to change things up by ditching the traditional rock instruments for a more electronic and atmospheric sound on their career-defining Kid A. Zach Condon, the young guru from Santa Fe behind the name Beirut, decided to take a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico with The Jimenez Band, a modest 19-piece band to make some tunes. The result is the first side of this double EP, March of the Zapotec. The Mexican influence from the talented backing band is apparent immediately, who do a great job of diversifying the side’s six tracks and packing them with an emotional punch. Definitely different but also quite creative and expressive, Zapotec creates a rich atmosphere of both celebration and despair and cultivates emotions ranging from happiness to melancholy. “The Akara” opens up as if a slow epic, with its brooding horns and Condon’s restrained yet effective vocals, whereas “The Shrew” sounds like something that would be played at the reception of a Mexican wedding, as everyone danced in sync to the horn section. The six songs mostly flow into one another, creating a continuous albeit brief glimpse of Beirut with a Mexican flair. How many bands can put that on their resume, and say they did effectively to boot?

The other side of the EP, Holland, which is attributed to Condon’s pre-Beirut pseudonym Realpeople, completely changes gears, providing an entirely different yet still fulfilling experience. Holland turns introverted, trading in big band bombast for simple yet effective electronics in the background of Condon’s more prominently displayed singing. Each track, like on Zapotec, serves some sort of purpose, creating varying degrees of atmosphere and emotion. “Venice” opens up slow and downtrodden, featuring hints of horns as if the two sides of the EPs coalesced briefly. The closer, “No Dice,” is quite unlike any other song on the 2xEP, creating a bouncy otherworldly atmosphere that persistently propels the listener further and further into the introverted realm of the imagination’s conjuration. The length of the track, at close to five and a half minutes, effectively allows the listener to get lost in this outer space dream world before being brought back down to Earth soon enough.

EPs are an odd commodity, since artists use them for myriad purposes, whether to release a single and ten remixes, a short collaboration album, a random assortment or collection or to provide a stopgap in between LPs. Beirut uses this innovative double EP as a way to channel his creative expressivity into two very different genres of music, both well-crafted and relatively innovative, all the while not overstaying his welcome in either category.

Beirut - La Llorona


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