Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Morning Show with John Richards, is “East Harlem” by Beirut from the 2011 album The Rip Tide on Pompeii Records.
Beirut’s music is hard to pin down, partly because it draws from a diverse variety of influences; partly because there are few contemporary bands they can really be compared to (Gogol Bordello is one that comes to mind); and partly because the musical mind of multi-instrumentalist front man Zach Condon is just plain unique. The words “gypsy” and “Balkan” often come up when trying to label the band, and though these terms are accurate, the band can also be compared to some of the heavyweights of American indie folk, such as Conor Oberst or The Decemberists, mainly due to the ability of Condon’s earnest, rich, and melancholy voice to carry a song. Maybe the most appropriate comparison, however, is Neutral Milk Hotel. Both bands have prodigiously-talented front men, both rely heavily on relatively unconventional instruments such as the accordion, glockenspiel, and horns, and both have a unique folk-iness that is incredibly affecting. It’s not surprising, then, that Condon, who is from Albuquerque, was “discovered” by former NMH member and fellow-New Mexican Jeremy Barnes. With Barnes’ help, Condon was able to record Beirut’s debut album, Gulag Orkestar, which was released on Ba Da Bing! Records in 2006.
Five years later, Beirut’s third full-length album is scheduled to be released on August 30. It may seem like a long way away, but Zach Condon and company are already touring, and they’ve released the album’s first single (and today’s featured song) “East Harlem” to whet fans’ appetites. And whet them it should as it’s more of what we’ve come to love from Beirut. The song is a foot-stomping, horn-laden, wistful lament of the distance separating two lovers in Condon’s current home of New York City.
Like I said, Beirut is already touring, and though they won’t be coming through Seattle, they’ll be playing at The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC on August 9 and The Crystal Ballroom in Portland on August 12. Click here for more dates and details (you know a band has international appeal when they have a Google map of Europe on their tour page). While we’re waiting for them to come through the Northwest, enjoy this great video of Beirut performing “East Harlem” live in 2009. Notice that Condon mentions he wrote the song when he was 17 years old: