Album Review

Aaron George
Sometime last winter I happened to encounter an interesting young woman who, on this day, had trumpet sounds coming from the large earphones draped around her neck. Being the brass junkie that I am I asked her what she was listening to. With a smile she told me “It’s Beruit, they are little strange, but it’s nice with the snow and everything.”

I had never heard of a band named Beruit, and for some reason the thoughts I had of the city drew up negative feelings in my head (go figure, it’s the country of my ancestry). In spite of this however I went ahead and picked up a copy of 2005s Gulag Orkestar. Since then the album has slowly worked its way into my essential list of must have music. Orkestar is something rare in that it is a debut album that sounds more like something a band would reach after a long time playing together. Orkestar has a great pace, plays well off of itself, and features beautiful instrumentation as well as vocals.

Orkestar opens with the title track, which is a nice teaser of things to come. The rhythm of the song is slow and contained, the very first few seconds sound like a jazz ensemble warming up, and from there the song bounces along like a parade in a normally sleepy European village. This generally non American feel is carried for the next three songs to the tune of hand drums and wiry sounding guitars, with founder and front man Zach Condon topping it all off with his lulling voice.

The first song to grab my attention from the album has grown to be my favorite, and that is “Postcards from Italy”. Probably the most American sounding song on the disc, Postcards has a dingy sound that gives it a World War II era feel. Done poorly this song would be terrible, and Condon successfully toed a thin line. Typically after a year I would be burned out on a song by now, but this one has staying power.

One last (sort of off kilter) thing about this album, it is almost perfect for being put on an MP3 player and randomly surprising you through shuffle. The album works perfectly as a whole, and honestly shuffle play tends to bother me since many albums are arranged with certain intent. Orkestar though is a great way to surprise yourself and after listening to multiple of your normal songs, its great to have one of these pop up take you someplace else. Personally they always seem to come on at the right time, just as the sun goes down, or when I'm walking in the snow.