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Beirut/Realpeople: March of the Zapotec/Holland

Music Reviews Beirut
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Beirut/Realpeople: <em>March of the Zapotec/Holland</em>

On twin EPs, Zach Condon splits his time between Mexico and his bedroom

While these 11 tracks by Zach Condon are mostly new, they don't comprise a proper follow-up to his 2007 LP, The Flying Club Cup.

Instead, they fill out two distinct EPs, packaged together. The first is March of the Zapotec, credited to Beirut. The second is Holland, credited to Realpeople, which was Condon's solo project prior to Beirut.

On March of the Zapotec, Condon shifts away from his Eastern European fixation and heads south of the border. While researching a film soundtrack in Oaxaca, Mexico, he became interested in the region's funeral bands. In a small village called Teotitlan del Valle, he met the 19-strong Jimenez Band, and began to collaborate with them using a translator.

The resulting EP is powerful, but also a bit slight. Only half of its six songs include Condon's lush vocals, instrumentals range from 30 seconds to two minutes. Still, the small package contains remarkably big music. Reminiscent of New Orleans funeral bands, this is wearily triumphant party music. Delirious box steps and waltzes fill up with jaunty parade strings, baggy tubas and bleating trumpets, antic climaxes and sagging slumps. On songs like "La Llorna," where Condon sings, he sounds impressive but lacks charisma—as always, it feels like he's singing from behind heavy-lidded eyes.

If the stately grandeur of Zapotec is more imposing, Holland is more roundly satisfying. It's fun to hear the buttoned-down Condon loosen his collar for this featherweight synth-pop project. Traces of Balkan strings emerge, but the EP is mostly taken up by whizzing programmed drums and ebullient synth melodies. Condon's voice—which usually sounds cloudy—opens up like a clear blue sky in this context. Holland reveals a relentlessly serious musician embracing the value of good old-fashioned fun.

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