What makes this double LP interesting is that it's much more than an early EP compilation; it's also a pre-history of Beirut and the story as to how Beirut frontman Zachary Condon's musicology evolved. It features some of the earliest songs he ever wrote, including "Poisoning Claude" using an Oberheim Matrix 6 keyboard.
This 26 track offering is divided into four sections: the first features tracks from the Lon Gisland and Elephant Gun EPs; the following six are Condon's first recordings with some dating back to when he was 14; the sounds which took Zachary into new musical directions (Record Two Side A) and finally (Record Two Side-B) selected B-sides including "Napoleon on the Bellerophon" from the Pompeii EP.
At eleven years old young Zachary was overcome with severe insomnia, and music would be the outlet to help pass the empty hours of sleepless nights. This situation was helped when his older brother moved to New York, leaving him with an analogue four-track cassette recorder and a music collection consisting of minimal German electronica, hip hop and various mixtapes, including Neutral Milk Hotel. With Condon already adroit at playing the trumpet, having access to his father's acoustic guitar, a synthesiser, a drum machine and the family home recently welcoming a piano. Zackary was able to open himself up to new styles and instruments "in the manner of someone completely possessed…".
Condon historically had a complicated relationship and even an aversion to the guitar for a band that combines indie music alongside world music. Much of the early music featured on Artifacts sees Zachary turn to synthesisers as a welcome escape from the electric-guitar-dominated music of the states. To this day, Condon "can't play the guitar" owing to his love of the trumpet and skateboarding injuries which shortened and immobilised his left wrist. "Bercy", the first song Zachary wrote with more than four chords, sees him break open Fruity Loops and create sounds from scratch.
"Sicily", which opens Record Two Side A, celebrates Condon's leap from the Oberheim Matrix 6 keyboard to the first song he wrote on the Farfisa. He proudly recalls feeling like he "had turned some invisible corner sonically", which enabled him to produce an otherworldly sound. Whilst booming with ostentatious trumpets, the triumph of "Interior of a Dutch House" is how Zachary wrote this melodic four-minute upbeat tune on his father's steel-string guitar with a capo. "Hot Air Balloon", written on the electric guitar, is also praiseworthy with its raw haunting effect. On "Fountains and Tramways", Condon fuses EDM Kraftwerk sounds, drum machine beats with lounge and crooner influences such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Burt Bacharach he was listening to "a lot" at the time.
The strongest songs on this double album are the EP's and the B-sides when Zachary had finally met bandmates Paul Collins and Nick Petree, who had taken Middle Eastern percussion classes and knew his way around a Darbuka drum. Condon, at this stage, knew how to channel and develop his experimentation. The influences of the minimal German electronica, hip hop and various mixtapes play a less prominent role, and the organic world music sounds come to the forefront. For example, the Portuguese Fado-style guitar over the main melody and trumpets across instrumental "Die Treue zum Ursprung" form the sound template that would eventually provide Beirut with international acclaim.
The tracks, across Record One Side B, appear inchoate to the material that would be captured on Beirut's debut LP Gulag Orkestar. Nonetheless, a tireless and talented musician willing to listen and experiment with music from a genre is fully present. There is raw emotion, passion, pain, confusion and soul of someone who has not yet but will find their place globally in music. Artifacts, particular Record One Side B, will provide the ultimate case study and curious listen for any musician or anyone interested in how musicians eventually find a template to work upon.
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