It’s difficult to be truly disappointed by The Flying Club Cup, yet it’s not hard to feel a little indifferent toward it at times. Two albums and a few EPs in, it’s obvious that these Balkan beats are just another language to 21-year-old wunderkind Zach Condon. It’s unfair to frown upon the music simply because it sounds easy, but rest assured that’s not what’s happening here: these are 13 overwhelmingly pleasant and gorgeous tunes. Inspired by the streets of France and a photograph from 1910 showcasing a battalion of hot air balloons around the Eiffel Tower, Condon and his merrymaking band of principalities continue to invoke sunny images of Eastern Europe at the flick of a wrist. However, by sounding so similar to Gulag Orkestar, this sophomore effort has lost the more "exotic" qualities that made Condon's debut so interesting. Although this is more or less where the complaints cease, it's one that sustains throughout.
The album marks the first long-playing release to feature the full band Condon had assembled after the home-recorded Gulag dropped last year (the band first appeared on the Lon Gisland EP earlier this year). And the inclusion of a complete band (and a proper studio) is a marked difference. These songs sound great fleshed out. Whether it be the Peanuts-sounding opening piano line or pitter-patter percussion of “In The Mausoleum” or the distinct kick felt when the whole band pops in on “Nantes,” one could hardly ask for something to sound more grandiose. The songs on Gulag sounded surprisingly full for the work of nearly just one person, but with the added help, Flying Club Cup sounds complete.
Perhaps even more noteworthy are the contributions from Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallet. Pallet lent his expertise in string arrangements across the fold of the album, peppering his signature sound into songs such as “Guyamas Sonora” and “Forks and Knives (La Fete).” Perhaps coincidentally, they’re some of the finest sounding songs on the album. Pallet is also largely responsible for the album’s most intriguing piece, “Cliquot.” Taking on lead vocals, Pallet fills the grim song with the sort of stark, brooding imagery and melody found on his Final Fantasy recordings. The song is blended seamlessly with the inclusion of Beirut’s band, taking it to a sonic level Pallet would have trouble reaching on his own, even with his trusty violin. And yet, “Cliquot” sticks out like a sore thumb on the album. Why is that?
The Flying Club Cup is a good album. If you're a fan of Gulag Orkestar, it’s probably a great album. But aside from “Cliquot,” it’s more of the same. What the album lacks in progression, it makes up in flair. And while that’s appealing for now, one can only hope that the elusive step forward is discovered before the third LP drops. What makes Condon’s repeated treading over of the same ground less stellar than someone like Jens Lekman’s (another artist content to hold steady) is that Beirut’s music shows no knack for experimentation; each Beirut song sounds more or less the same as the one that came before. While Lekman brings fresh tones and ideas to Night Falls Over Kortedala, Condon adds strings on Flying Club Cup. Like I said, it’s enough for now, but not enough to stop that feeling of indifference from washing over. As it stands, The Flying Club Cup is a really swell sounding re-recording of Gulag Orkestar, except with entirely new songs. And yet, when listening from a distance, they’re really not all that new anyway.