A collection of old EPs, covers, rarities and B-sides that go back to some of Beirut’s earliest recordings, it’s safe to say that Artifacts is pretty revealing of the internal working of Zach Condon. Even the minutely-detailed liner notes capture his journey from an Albuquerque-based 11-year-old, “stricken with terrible insomnia and many lonely hours to kill at night”, right up to the release of his debut album Gulag Orkestra in 2006, nine years later.
A mammoth double album with 26 songs to sink your teeth into, it’s safe to say that Artifacts has hidden gems aplenty, and each could probably warrant a full review on its own. Personally, my favourite aspect of this record is the sense of progression you get as a listener. The first half of the record is made up of early EPs, and the first hour or so begins with the simple, stripped-down Beirut of the early years. The second LP is more experimental and is stuffed with fascinating creative cul-de-sacs and thought-starters. Side C, simply entitled New Directions and Early Works is a complete treasure trove of weirdness, from strange electronica-tinted sea shanties to the laid-back lounge jazz of new track ‘Fountains and Tramways’.
If there’s one criticism, it’s that Artifacts is such a dense record that it’s hard to digest in one sitting and the relentless sense of tweeness makes this a collection that I found myself dipping in and out over just letting it play. However, as a glimpse under the hood of what makes Beirut tick, it’s absolutely fascinating.