I was completely charmed by the debut release from Beirut (largely the work of young singer/songwriter Zach Condon), and while I admit that the production quality of Gulag Orkestar bothered me at times, it had a rough charm and youthful exuberance that seemed to make up for any real deficiencies. I wasn't the only one to fall under his spell, though, and after a deluge of positive press (and some deriding), Condon is back with a short release to act as a stopgap until his second full-length album comes out later this year.
At just over sixteen minutes in length, Lon Gisland EP is just enough material to really highlight a couple of things. One is that instead of Condon largely tackling songs by himself, he has been joined by a group of friends, and in addition to that backing band, the production quality is a great deal better. Musically, there are some nice steps as well, with a largely similar sound as the debut, but with just enough small changes to provide some intrigue.
"Elephant Gun" opens the release and with strum of mandolin and a build of horns, accordion, and marching drums it sounds much like the skewed eastern-bloc folk of his debut. Unfolding over the course of nearly six minutes, though, the song shows some very nice restraint introducing different sounds and peaking nicely. Although it's only two minutes long (and an instrumental), the raucous "My Family's Role in the World Revolution" is a blast, and hopefully a sign of upbeat things to come as martial snares roll relentlessly behind an almost polka-style horn and piano blowout.
"Scenic World (Version)" finds the larger ensemble reworking a song from his debut, and the lush instrumentation completely removes it from the original lo-fi pop categorization into someplace new and stunning. After another short instrumental, the EP closes with the waltzing "Carousels." With bellowing, choral choruses and some dense instrumentation, it's another song that shows the group moving into a more developed sound, with piano, horns, strings, clarinet, and loads of percussion all layering together in a powerful way. Like any great EP, it feels way too short when it's actually done spinning, but it begs repeated listening and provides much promise for future work from the group.