Counting the Magnetic Fields and the Smiths among his influences, New Mexico native Zach Condon began making D.I.Y. bedroom recordings in his early teens. After dropping out of high school, he traveled across Europe, in the process becoming exposed to the Balkan brass music that would be at the heart of his Beirut debut. Back home in Albuquerque, Condon briefly enrolled at the University of New Mexico, studying photography and Portuguese before setting off to Europe again. He eventually crossed paths with fellow New Mexican Jeremy Barnes, a former member of Neutral Milk Hotel whose own albums as A Hawk and a Hacksaw shared similar ethnographic interests with Condon’s material. With the help of Barnes and his A Hawk and a Hacksaw partner, Heather Trost, Condon recorded the songs that would make up Gulag Orkestar largely on his own, playing accordion, keyboards, saxophone, clarinet, mandolin, ukulele, horns, glockenspiel, and percussion alongside Barnes’ drums and Trost’s cello and violin.
After Barnes gave an early version of the album to Ba Da Bing! Records label head Ben Goldberg, the newly christened band Beirut was signed to the label. Condon moved from Albuquerque to Brooklyn, where he put together a shifting collective of part-time bandmembers along the lines of Broken Social Scene for live performances. Following the release of Gulag Orkestar in May 2006, critical praise spread from small blogs to mainstream media outlets. The EP Lon Gisland followed in 2007, leading up to the full-length The Flying Club Cup later that year. That album marked Beirut’s debut in the Billboard 200, reaching number 118.
In 2009, Beirut released the double EP March of the Zapotec/Holland. The latter featured six electronic tracks recorded at home under the pseudonym Realpeople, while the former included six tracks recorded in Oaxaca, Mexico with the Jimenez Band, a 19-piece group from Teotitlán del Valle. It cracked the Top 100, as did the full-length Rip Tide, issued in 2011 on Condon’s own Pompeii Records label. Beirut then signed with 4AD, which released No No No in 2015. Inspired in part by health issues and divorce, No No No became Beirut’s highest-charting album to date, reaching number 46 on the Billboard 200 and the Top Ten of the alternative chart. Still showing signs of influence from Balkan brass music, Condon returned with Beirut’s fifth LP, Gallipoli, in 2019. Co-produced by No No No‘s Gabe Wax, it was recorded in Puglia, Italy, New York City, and Condon’s adopted base of Berlin, Germany. Despite having made changes to his lifestyle to prepare for touring, recurring health problems including throat issues forced him to cancel large segments of associated tours.
Looking for a place to rest and hopefully recover, Condon headed to a cabin in Hadsel in early 2020, an island in northern Norway with picturesque mountain views but also where the sun never rises above the horizon in winter. He took a fair amount of recording equipment with him, including a borrowed pump organ, two rigs of modular synthesizers, an old tape machine, and his trumpet, among other gear. Upon the invitation of a local church, he also had access to a 17th-century church organ. By the time he returned to Berlin, the COVID-19 pandemic had caused widespread lockdowns, and Condon finished the album he began in Norway in his attic studio, where he had access to additional instruments. In the meantime, he released the career-spanning Artifacts, a 2022 double LP featuring unreleased tracks, B-sides, and a handful of his earliest recordings. That year also saw a reissue of the band’s 2007 Lon Gisland EP. And today, Hadsel, is released on Pompeii Records.