Beirut/Real- People: March of the Zapotec/Holland
(Ba Da Bing!)
In an interview with The Stranger last May, Beirut bandleader Zach Condon let drop a couple of relative bombs: one, that his older brother Ryan ghostwrote roughly half of the band's lyrics, leaving Condon free to concentrate on melodies, and two, that Condon had been recording new material in Oaxaca, Mexico, for an upcoming and as-yet-unannounced record. That record would become March of the Zapotec, one half of Condon and company's new double EP, the other half of which, Holland, is attributed to Realpeople, a home-recording pseudonym for Condon that predates Beirut. Whether these two EPs deserve different aliases is debatable—both sound unmistakably like Beirut, thanks largely to Condon's distinctively dour tenor—but they are definitely two discrete, and unevenly rewarding, records.
March of the Zapotec was, true to its title, inspired by Oaxaca's funereal brass bands, and Beirut's sprawling ensemble ably bend such processional dirges and tentatively heartening oompahs to the service of Condon's lovelorn laments. The result doesn't differ much from their previous albums. "La Llorona" takes its name from a grim Spanish-American legend ("the weeping woman"), although Condon's (one of them or the other) vague and sparse lyrics could apply to any number of tragic fictional femmes fatales. The EP's two other lyric numbers, "The Akara" and "The Shrew," are both perfectly gratifying, though nowhere near as powerfully ear-worming as Beirut's best songs.
Holland begins promisingly with "My Night with the Prostitute from Marseilles," the strongest song in this collection. Condon wistfully intones the refrain, "And we believed her then, oh, oh," over a muted kick-drum pulse and burbling keyboard arpeggio that sounds lifted from a Final Fantasy menu screen (not entirely a bad thing and a familiar sound to those who picked up Beirut's Pompeii EP). Not only the best song here, "My Night" is among Condon's best compositions period, and one can imagine Beirut fleshing it out with the full live-band treatment to spectacular effect.
The rest of the EP, though, can't live up to the sublime opening song. Where Zapotec's instrumental interludes pleasantly bustle with activity, the Casio-esque drum patterns and aqueous keyboard tones that pad Holland's lyrical moments, only occasionally pierced by some horn stabs, start to feel flat after a while, although closer "No Dice" does summon a wonderful empty-discotheque melancholy.
Taken as an album, March of the Zapotec/Holland would be a letdown; as a pair of EPs, it's enough to keep me eagerly hanging on for Condon's next move.