No, not the capital of Lebanon...the band.
This is one of the most difficult bands to categorize--the influences are all over the place. The general sound spans a whole slew of genres, and each album has a slightly different feel to it. But despite its decided strangeness, the songs are very easy to listen to. I first digested their entire discography while working on my take-home final for Biological Techniques. It was a monster final, and I ended up having more than thirty sources over the course of the twelve hours spent sitting on the floor wrapped in a blanket, surrounded by notes and junk food. Tired of the loud, obnoxious music I usually listen to when working on a difficult assignment, I decided to try out the strange new band I'd recently discovered (courtesy of Julian Casablancas, who lists them as a favorite band), and was surprised when I realized I'd listened to all sixty-something songs almost without interruption.
Fluid, lyrical, and thoughtful, Beirut are technically a combination of Balkan folk, Mexican folk, electronica, and "world" (whatever that means), producing an overall sound generally labeled as "indie." This strange combination actually works, in a melodic stream of awesome that you have to hear to understand.
Beirut is the brainchild of New Mexico native Zach Condon, who plays ukelele and flugelhorn in addition to being lead singer. His voice is carefully emotive, reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley. Like his vocals, the albums themselves are subtle and beautiful. Each is different, but they all have an undercurrent of loving, longing, searching, romanticism, and perhaps even nostalgia for a world never experienced. As a superficial example, see the front cover for the first album, Gulag Orkestar:
According to wikipedia, this photo (as well as the back cover) was torn out of a book found in a library in Leipzig, Germany...an unknown photographer and models, European license plate, vintage clothing, troubled situation, and ambiguous time period--romantic mystery, anyone? It was later found out that the photographs were taken by the equally moody Sergey Chilikov, a Russian photographer who is currently alive and well (see some of his other beautiful, albeit blurry, pieces here, but I don't recommend googling him...), yet the romanticism remains.
Speaking personally, all of Beirut's work is delicious, but I recommend either Gulag Orkestrar or, if in a hurry, the Lon Gisland EP [correct spelling] as a starting point for the neophyte.
Postcards from Italy
Le Moribond/My Family's Role in the World Revolution