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March of the Zapotec / Holland Charles Ubaghs , February 24th, 2009 08:25

Beirut's Zach Condon appears to be dead set on turning himself into the indie rock equivalent of a Lonely Planet guide. Gulag Orkestar, the band's 2006 debut, documented his discovery of Balkan folk music. The follow-up, The Flying Club Cup, saw the young Francophile attempt to craft a bridge between his earlier work and a deep passion for the likes of Scott Walker favourite Jacques Brel - even going so far as to perform Brel's 'Moribound' live and, with a surprisingly fluent command of the language, in the original French.

Condon's prodigious talent and ambition are undeniable. Yet his latest ethnographic excursion, March of the Zapotec/Holland, is starting to show the strain of the travelling lifestyle as Condon wanders the globe in search of a new source of indigenous authenticity to dip his maudlin pop into.

A double EP packaged together into a single collection, the first half, March of the Zapotec, documents what transpired when Condon headed to Oaxaca, Mexico to work with a local 17-piece funeral band. The result is at best a curio, with 'The Shrew' setting Condon's dramatic tendencies against his support's ramshackle brass. At its lowest though, Zapotec is a turgid creation that smothers Condon's knack for uplifting melody as he mistakes soporific pomp for weighty gravitas.

Holland, which could easily have been named 'Portrait of the artist as a young, bedroom-bound romantic', is credited to his pre-Beirut moniker, The Realpeople. It's a showcase for the electro-pop compositions Condon's been privately penning since well before he established himself as a globetrotting musical magpie. The intention may have been to highlight a little heard side of his work, but what's really on offer with 'My Night with the Prostitute from Marseille' or the dismal euro-pop of closer 'No Dice,' is Condon's all too familiar romantic posturing, only this time set to the sounds of cheap electronics.

What's truly at play on this double EP is simply the warbling of an apt pupil who has mistaken mere gesture for substance in his rush to prove himself a serious artiste. Unfortunate for Condon then, because with March of the Zapotec/Holland as evidence, he looks set to be labelled a dilettante for some time to come.