Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


For the one of you keeping track, these are my favourite albums of the year so far. Some of them are officially out, others are not.

Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies (StG) [buy]
Espers - Espers II (StG) [pre-order]
Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds (StG) [pre-order]
The Knife - Silent Shout (StG) [buy]


Beirut - Gulag Orkestar [buy]

Wait - Who? Beirut? Is that the guy you kinda mentioned in passing last week?


Beirut - "The Gulag Orkestar"
Beirut - "The Canals of our City"

I give you two songs. There are already two more, loose and free. So now that's four from an album of eleven: it's a sample and a half. But I'm not worried, friends, about sharing this with you. Because of two things:

1) As mp3s, these songs do not nearly swing, soar, thump or boom as they do on the CD. It's an album of wide, gold and silver sounds, the sort of thing that comes alive when loud in a room. You should buy it to hear this.

2) The album is really, really great, and after these I think you will know this, and you will buy it.

"The Gulag Orkestar" is the opening track on Gulag Orkestar. It is a throaty, burnished introduction: wobbling 'n weaving horns, a pile of shoes, a night getting slowly to its feet. And then, almost like a reggae tune, the drums take some unsteady steps and fall into place. Jingle jingle thump, jingle jingle thump, horns in line behind. And out from the curtains: it's Beirut. A smiling Balkan troubadour - part-gypsy, part-Wainwright, with a caravan full of Neutral Milk Hotel records and maybe Gogol Bordello's sparkling shoes. (A voice nourished on schnapps.) And if it doesn't make you wonder what follows (a track called "Prenzlauerberg"), well go home to your Wonderbread and Miracle Whip.

"The Canals of our City" takes Beirut's voice and a chorus of trembling trumpet, the rattling strum of an old guitar, and it turns these things into a mirror. It's a backward glance that's forward-looking, all of your past telescoping back behind your shoulder. Remembrance - remember the sparkle? remember the stammer? - and nostalgia. Squeezebox and gathered voices, that strident song, brassy till it evaporates. Two minutes and twenty seconds that feel like the invocation of a whole beloved world.

The Gulag Orkestar is a feat because it is a folky record that is so much fun. That is so much fun without being about dancing. That just raises cup after cup of wine, pulls wind after wind out of its pockets (north! south! east! west!), gives you breadcrumbs and also the opportunity to get lost. It's an outstanding, endearing debut. It's when you're wandering in the dark in a pasture, in a country of cornfields and herbal liqueurs, and you come across a barn that's full of fire and dance and song. And you go in. It's like that. The truest kind of souvenir.

[buy ($10 incl. postage!)]


Fantastic stop-motion music videos by Potions Made For Children (colour and trees and prints and rag-dolls and splendour!), and Wolf Parade (the new one is "Modern World").

Posted by Sean at April 20, 2006 3:00 AM

very good call making a whole post about this guy sean. i LOVE beirut. how much? he's my MYSPACE FRIEND. that's how much.

Posted by george at April 20, 2006 11:38 AM

i share 3 of your top 5 so far (Destroyer, The Knife, and of course, Beirut). I've been smitten w/ his work since i first heard him a couple months back.

Posted by chris at April 20, 2006 2:47 PM

We must all have Beirut on the brain -- I just bought tickets yesterday to see him opening for Irving at the Knitting Factory NY.

Posted by kathryn at April 20, 2006 3:30 PM

"Postcards from Italy" - on Beirut's website - just made me dance like no song has in a long time. Brilliant.

Posted by zach at April 20, 2006 6:09 PM

And the Internet goes full circle again.
From Beirut's website:
"saidthegramophone likes us alot (sources say the whole internet goes there)".

Posted by lisa at April 20, 2006 8:33 PM

how lovely that the day i receive my beirut cd in the mail, i get to read sean's thoughts about it as well. thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful site. brilliant music and luminous words.

Posted by jessica at April 20, 2006 8:44 PM

Geez, Sean , TWO gifts, each "a folky record that is so much fun": Beirut and The Pendulums. Thanks!
Anyone else hear a influence on "Postcards..." from Andrew Bird?

Posted by J at April 21, 2006 1:51 PM

Nice list! Islands is second after Destroyer on my list.

Posted by john at April 24, 2006 11:26 PM

thanks for the beirut recommendation, great sound. remind me somewhat of Devotchka out here in Denver. Cheers.

Posted by ceilingcreek at April 25, 2006 2:37 PM

i bought it. i am thoroughly anticipating its arrival.

Posted by tim+ at April 27, 2006 8:40 AM

Beirut gets a double -yes- from me, which equates to "2 thumbs up, good job buddy"! Minus the eros, which isn't to say it isn't there somewhere...

Posted by Red Ruin at April 28, 2006 2:17 AM

All I can do is heartily concur. Brought 'Postcards...' (from Catbirdseat) on holidays a few weeks ago and it became our soundtrack song. Ordered the cd a couple of days ago (12 dollars post paid to Europe? A steal!). Recommending his Knit gig to my NY pals. I feel the summer taking shape beautifully- can't wait to hear the tunes loud, and/or in the outdoors.
Thanks again.

Posted by Robert P, Dublin at April 28, 2006 6:14 AM

Bears more than a striking resemblence to Devotchka to me. look forward to seeing it in nyc

Posted by Greg Catchum at April 28, 2006 1:00 PM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

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Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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