“We never lived here at all,” sings Zach Condon on the penultimate track of Gallipoli, Beirut’s fifth studio album, simultaneously voicing why listeners either love or disparage the Santa Fe-originated outfit’s world-influenced, nostalgia-drenched music.
Gallipoli is the most pleasant record I’ve listened to in a while—an album to fill your ears as you hike on a clear day to a remote mountain lake. It’s dreamy, and sparer than some of their older work, though still brimming with the endless saccharine sweep you expect from Condon and crew.
Beirut carves a little deeper sonically on Gallipoli than on their more popular output, by upping the bass and beefing the percussion. It’s a natural place for the band to arrive, ever since they really flirted with synth-dance on side B of 2009’s March of the Zapotec. The fuller production and wider EQ provide the many various instruments more space to be heard, rather than competing with each other as in the narrower, high-treble production of early Beirut. These two welcome production choices, and suggest this album will be contain more than minor innovations on the old formula.
Yet, the album mostly feels familiar. Opener “When I Die” almost fools you when ten seconds in, the Ronson-esque beat kicks to life, but settles into a march—pleasant, but hardly groundbreaking for them. Luckily, Condon continues his uncanny streak of infusing simple melodies and rhythms with grand emotion—via flugelhorn, synth, and his powerfully expressive voice. It feels like your biplane has drifted off course during sunset, into a region of instantly familiar, immediately emotional resonant music. (Let the listener decide if this is a desirable feeling.)
Second single “Landslide” worms into your ear the way “Santa Fe” or “Scenic World” did on albums past. Which is maybe the trouble with Gallipoli: most songs make you go, “Hey, this reminds me of one of their old songs.” Then again, writing songs that feel old is Beirut’s MO. Nevertheless, the rich spurts of imagery on some of those earlier tracks—the marriage under willow trees, the elephant gun, the East Harlem rose—are replaced with broader ruminations this go round. I could’ve used a few more lyrical anchors. Maybe connected: Gallipoli’s most intriguing texture is found on smoky-guitared “Corfu,” an entirely instrumental track.
Ultimately, it’s “Varieties of Exile” that brings a smile to my face, a standout track driven by the Beirut staples: uke, accordion, Condon’s plaintive croon, and brass for the big finish. “It’s a good life,” he sings, “Wait, and it’s over.”
Maybe, but the wistfulness never fades. Gallipoli is Beirut-as-usual. Same tunes, strong feelings, a couple jukes. It won’t convert haters, nor push away fans. It’s a scenic stop on their journey--whether you’re beginning to follow them, or already along for the ride.