Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zach Condon- The Joys of Losing Weight

Before Gulag Orkestar shot him to fame, there was Zach Condon, teenager and future UNM student recording alone at home. In this makeshift studio Zach recorded at least 21 tracks, under the working title of "Realpeople" Not to be confused with the "Holland" ep released as a two-fer with "March of the Zapotec" Those tracks were also credited to Realpeople, which tricked some people into thinking that "Holland" included some of Zach's home recordings, which it did not.

The Realpeople recordings have been floating around since Gulag was first released. These bedroom recordings had grown to legendary status due mostly to their rarity. Well, that's no longer the case as 21 tracks designated as "The Joys of Losing Weight" (don't know if that title came from Zach or other sources) are now up on YouTube.  Keep in mind that these songs are works in progress, seminal in nature and not fully realized. Although, with some TLC in the studio, they would sparkle brilliantly.

It's often been said that these tracks emulate Magnetic Fields, the principal creative outlet of singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt.  To a certain degree..yes, but overall Zach was pursuing a wider range of influences. Like James Mercer he was tuned in to the Elephant Six collective of bands and musicians. (Robert Schneider- Apple in Stereo, Bill Doss & Will Cullen Hart- The Olivia Tremor Control, Jeff Mangum- Neutral Milk Hotel etc.) And of course we know of  the support he received from Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel) & Heather Trost (Foma) early in his career. 

During this period Zach was experimenting with different sounds and ideas (dub, electronica, lo-fi) And through this tangled mess of inspiration, we start to see his precocious talent building. (He was in his mid-teens at the time) Synthesized beats and low key vocals dominate the proceedings, with some occasional brass instrumentation and strings dropped into the mix.  None of the tracks on "The Joys of Losing Weight" have titles, they are designated simply as Untitled 1, Untitled 2 etc. which makes reviewing individual songs rather pointless. 

Untitled 1 is a crude, sparse instrumental version of "Payne's Bay" from "The Rip Tide" Untitled 15 is an early version of "The Shrew" from "March of the Zapotec" Untitled 6 with its disembodied voices and electronic auto beats shows another direction that Zach could've taken.  "The Joys of Losing Weight gives us a glimpse of Zach Condon in the midst of an ambitious phase of his early musical evolution. The songs are charming in their simplicity and understated brilliance. His dalliances with electronica and lo-fi  pop make it clear that had he chosen to follow that path, he would still be worshipped as a band geek god. To summarize:  I can't help but think that Zach's infatuation with Balkan music and Chanson were the side-projects, and that the future for Mr. Condon is in fact... his past.