RIYLNeutral Milk Hotel
Tracklist1. Gulag Orkestar
4. Postcards From Italy
5. Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)
6. Rhineland (Heartland)
7. Scenic World8. Bratislava
9. The Bunker
10. The Canals of Our City
11. After the Curtain
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When I was 19, I was just wrapping up my first year of college; I went home for the summer and worked as a plastics inspector. It was by far the worst job I ever had. Standing for hours straight as every 8 seconds some bit of formed plastic would come by me, I’d have to take it apart and make sure everything was ok. Every 8 seconds… for hours on end… I literally could feel my life ticking away. When Zach Condon was 19, he created this album. Show off.
Gulag Orkestar obviously has an Eastern European influence (Balkan to be exact), accordions pump, trumpets weep, a myriad of stringed instruments come and go, and all the while young Mr. Condon’s voice howls hauntingly throughout. It’s a real credit that the majority of work on this album was done by one person (Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost toss some support his way) given the way the instruments blend so beautifully and seamlessly together.
It’s hard to comment on individual songs as they all have a very similar feel and style. One thing that stands out is the inability to understand almost any lyric on the entire album. I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing, it melds with the music well and for all intents and purposes becomes like another instrument in the grand scheme of things. It would have been nice to have heard what ideas and concepts were being shared on Gulag Orkestar, but alas, it’s not to be.
In the time that it takes to listen to the album I would have inspected around 300 pressings of melted plastic trays in my old job, and as they kept coming out of the machine, the repetitiveness gets to you and you just want to quit. Which, oddly enough, is kind of like what happens with this album. On first pass, the album is a pleasure to listen to, and it’s nice to put on when doing work. However, it’s not the type of album I could listen to every day as it has some heft to it and can be a bit overwhelming after repeated listens.