Mandolin, accordion, ukulele and trumpets played by what sounds like a Balkan folk band who seem to have spent a lot of time listening to Mariachi bands and then named themselves after a Middle Eastern city.
So you may be surprised to discover this turns out to be the work of just one man, called Zach Condon, working from a single bedroom in Sante Fe, New Mexico, USA.
Perhaps the key to all this is the fact that Zach had an accident as a kid and as a result can’t play the guitar because he lacks mobility in one hand (true). Or perhaps it’s the fact that his dad was an obsessive guitarist who forced his kids to practice guitar every day and Zach rebelled, like all kids do, and took up that most rebellious of instruments the…er…trumpet instead (true). Or perhaps his dad had a few Herb Alpert Tijuana Brass albums lying around their New Mexico house (I guessed that one).
Anyway, given the rag bag of cultural and musical influences it derives from, ‘Postcards From Italy’ and the album it comes from should be some kind of world music lowest common denominator bland-out. But it’s not. Instead it’s possibly the most glorious sound to emerge over the last few years without the aid of a guitar. Closer to Folk than Rock maybe, but absolutely of this minute.
And beyond the joyous music that Zach creates we have his soaring voice. To me he comes from the school of singers where voice and vocals are instruments rather than words to be listened to for meaning or interpreted grammatically. Like Sigur Ros but not as extreme - he does afterall sing in English rather than a made up language. So I’ve never caught a single lyric in this song but I still adore Zach’s singing because his voice is as unique an instrument as he makes his trumpets sound.
Then of course there may be a whole found-versus-real-versus-invented-culture thing going on here. Which I’m not going to explore in detail because my head’s still aching from writing the recent Eno/Byrne post. But there are enough clues in the music, the band name and the song titles to suggest that maybe what Zach has created (or wants us to believe he’s found) here is an elaborate and almost believable but ultimately fake ‘Folk’ culture and music. Maybe the young Zach was also forced to play guitar by his dad whilst listening to Can’s ‘Ethnological Forgery Series’ albums.
I can’t help thinking that the following quotation hidden amongst the sleeve notes – ‘cover and back photos (from the album sleeve) were found in a library in Leipzig torn out of a book’ - is a clue that other ‘found’ or invented cultural elements might be waiting within.
Available on the wonderful CD ‘Gulag Orkestar’ which was originally brought to my attention by the equally wonderful: Rough Trade