Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s I considered myself to be pretty hip and knowledgable about what was going on in numerous music genres, sub-genres, and scenes. I have 4 years of college radio and time spent as a record store clerk to thank for that. But since about ’03 or ’04 my knowledge of just about anything not having to do with jazz, the Black Keys, or Neko Case has pretty much shriveled up and died.
Case in point: Beirut. I unknowingly heard Beirut’s 2006 release The Gulag Orkestar at Lawrence’s The Bourgeois Pig, my favorite local coffee/spirits shop. On my way out I forgot to ask the barista what was playing. Fast forward a couple months. A friend of mine (yo Andrea) – who is aware of my love of quirky indie shit as well as my now defunct knowledge of just about anything cool – lent me a thumb drive with a bunch of music on it. Turns out she likes Beirut as well. I looked up the album on Amazon and to my surprise it’s four years old. Damn, not only did I not know about the band, but I haven’t known about them for four years. Had I know about the album in 2006 I would have been screaming from the mountaintops: “listen to this, for it is genius.”
If you’re like me and love the movie High Fidelity (it got wayyyy cooler after I became a record store clerk) then you will remember the scene where Jack Black’s character is talking to the Echo and the Bunnymen fan about how awesome the Jesus and Mary Chain is, and how they took where Echo left off and went with it. Other Neutral Milk Hotel fans I know have been itching for a miraculous third NMH record to fall out of the sky (while that quasi-bootleg thing floating around is cool it’s not quite the same thing), kind of like that Echo fan. Poor Jeff Mangum, another NMH record is not gonna happen. Well, could it be that Beirut has some of the same awesome things going for it that NMH had, and that they are to NMH what the Jesus and Mary Chain was to Echo?
Hmmmm…based on the few tracks I’ve heard from The Gulag Orkestar it could be: healthy dose of oom-pah, soaring trumpet, thick fuzzy textures, and a singer with a rich voice, and melodies and lyrics that easily get stuck in one’s head. I’m not saying Beirut is a replacement for NMH – in fact if I hear more recent albums they might not remind me of NMH at all – but at the very least Beirut will, for the time being, quench my thirst for unique, creative, and artful pop music. And for the time being digging Beirut just might rasie my hipness notch up. But probably not, as I’ll be sinking into unhipness again shortly when I find out that nobody ever liked Beirut, and that the only people who like their records were sad 30s somethings lamenting about how cool they thought they were when they were 21.