Beirut - The Riptide

On first listen, Beirut’s third full-length, the first since 2007′s The Flying Club Cup, glides by almost too easily. The more time you spend with it, though, the more it becomes clear The Rip Tide’s initial easy familiarity (and subsequent deepening) is a testament to Zach Condon’s continued growth as a songwriter. He’s able to deliver the calling-card Beirut people want (romantic croon, party-in-the-streets horn swells) while seamlessly mixing in new ingredients that showcase a purer pop feel coupled with a mature sense of restraint, all without sacrificing the “fun.”

Like the first two LPs, The Rip Tide is a focused 30 minutes and change. Unlike the previous releases, there isn’t an obvious overriding “international” or “World” theme. We get songs called “Santa Fe” (Condon’s original hometown, of course), “Payne’s Bay,” “Goshen,” and, as you know, “East Harlem.” They feel like snapshots of places Condon knows firsthand, not scenery pulled from from books (or Jacques Brel). You got some of that on 2009′s March Of The Zapotec EP, too: Condon inhabiting, not imagining the place in his songs. Here, though, he’s looking increasingly inward. The Rip Tide feels like his most nakedly personal collection with nights by the fire, the realization of distances even when you’re in the same city, the pains of change and time, etc. (Fittingly, The Rip Tide’s out on his own Pompeii label.)

As hinted at in the first sentence, it’s his most easy-going record. Sonically, think of a middle point between “Balkan” (or whatever) folk and Realpeople’s electro excursions. All with plenty of hooks. In fact, there isn’t a weak track. And, importantly, he manages to keep things varied without ever losing that central “Beirut” sound. We get the ebullient, pulsing nostalgia of “Santa Fe” (horn swell over catchy keyboard notes and swinging martial drum rolls), the wandering gypsy polka vibe of “Payne’s Bay,” the cascading, breezy melancholia of the title track’s strings, ivories, and electronic bleeps. This one, the album’s longest song, fades easiest into background music, which isn’t at all a critique: It’s a warm, beautifully elegant whoosh of swooning sounds brought to life by the increasingly tight, confident band backing (and, now, surrounding) Condon, the same folks you’ll see with him on tour: Perrin Cloutier (accordion, piano), Paul Collins (electric bass, upright bass), Ben Lanz (trumpet, piano, tuba), Nick Petree (drums), and Kelly Pratt (trumpet, euphonium).

Throughout, the lyrics are also sharp. The brief pump organ/accordion-lined opener “A Candle’s Flame” reminds us “a candle’s fire … is just a flame,” tracing the image from a campfire, a fireplace at home with a loved one, love itself … i.e. things that can be extinguished. (He makes his point by bringing in the horns and guest vocals from Sharon Van Etten.) The piano ballad “Goshen” that backs “East Harlem” on the pre-release 7″ offers a kind of behind-the-scenes pep talk (“you’re on in five / it’s time you rise…”) that turns into something more personal: “You’re not the girl I used to know / Why would you hide from such a glow? / If I had only told you so…” “The Peacock”’s 2 minutes are powered largely by Condon’s voice (eventually overlaid) and a simple, continual upward-arcing keyboard drone: “Where should I begin, begin? He’s the only one who knows the words / He’s the only one who knows the words.” More voices join him each time he repeats it, then — way in the distance — a solo horn enters. It’s a moving piece, one that feels fragmentary in the best ways possible: There’s more to the story than you’re getting; you need to fill in the rest yourself. That happens a lot here, another sign of Condon’s maturity, his willingness to restrain himself, to occasionally hold back.

So, yeah, Beirut’s no longer that precocious kid with a ukulele putting things to tape in his bedroom in New Mexico. In the most natural ways, really, Condon has successfully graduated from baby-faced ’06 buzz “band” to one of the strongest, most compelling songwriters and figures in independent music — baby-face still intact and armed with his strongest collection of material so far.

The Rip Tide is out 8/30 via Pompeii Records. You can pre-order it now. See Condon & Co. live:

07/05 – Ferrara, Italy @ Costello PIazza
07/07 – Republic of Serbia @ Exit Festival
07/09 – Slovakia @ Pohoda
07/12 – Arles, France @ Arles Fest
07/14 – Meco, Portugal @ Super Bock Super Rock
07/16 – Valencia, Spain @ Benicassim Festival
07/18 – Lyon, France @ Les Nuits de Fourviere
07/20 – Nyon, Switzerland @ Paleo Festival
07/29 – Portland, ME @ State Theater
07/31 – Montreal, QC @ Osheaga
08/02 – Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix
08/04 – Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix w/ Owen Pallett
08/05 – Sun. Aug. 7 – Chicago, IL @ Lollapalooza
08/10 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore
08/12 – Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
08/14 – San Francisco, CA @ Outside Lands
09/02 – Dorset, UK @ End of Road Festival
09/04 – Stradbally, Ireland @ Electric Picnic
09/06 – Manchester, UK @ Manchester Academy
09/08 – Amsterdamn, Netherlands @ Paradiso
09/12 – Paris, France @ Olympia
09/14 – Brussels, Belgium @ AB
09/16 – London, UK @ Brixton Academy
09/21 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5
09/22 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5
09/28 – Denver, CO @ Fillmore Auditorium
10/04 – Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre
10/09 – St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant
10/11 – Royal Oak, MI @ Royal Oak Music Hall
10/25 – Richmond, VA @ The National
10/27 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
10/29 – Austin, TX @ Stubbs Waller Creek
11/11 – Cincinnati, OH @ Bogarts
11/13 – Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory

Tags:  
Comments (12)
  1. When I saw Beirut play 3 of the new songs at Bonnaroo, I knew this album would be great. The first listen, I too, was a bit underwhelmed, but what really struck me the next few times around was the restraint the band shows . Some songs on previous albums felt crowded with all of the horns and electronics, but on this album they find the perfect balance.I wholeheartedly agree that there isn’t a single weak track. For sure one of my favorite albums I’ve listened to so far this year.

  2. Its amazing to listen to an album once and almost instantly acknowledge that this will be the best album of the year… What an Album.

  3. After about six spins, I’m still a bit underwhelmed. It doesn’t feel as “significant” as the others – which isn’t to say that Beirut (or any band) should try too hard to be “significant” – it just feels slighter and less emotionally resonant than the others. The songs also feel a bit safer IMO, but I’m holding out hope that it really opens up for me over time and I’m just rushing to premature judgement, because dammit I love the other albums.

  4. Easily his most focused album. Fantastic. Also, more albums should be this short. Get focused, get in, get out. You’re right when you say there are no “duds.” One of the best of the year, easily.

  5. I might be crazy, but this sounds like the soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine 2 (if such a movie existed). Not that that’s a bad thing; just saying. Really nice album.

  6. LOVE this album. not a bad track on it.

  7. The first listen left me underwhelmed too. But I’m sure that this is a grower as the write-up suggests!

    Off to give it a few more spins…

  8. i’d see them live but Zach and Co. are dissing D.C. i feel punked.

  9. “Santa Fe” is a *great* song.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2