Review: Beirut’s “The Rip Tide”

To be honest, I’ve only been a fan of Zach Condon and Beirut for maybe a little over a month (though my friend, worldly do-gooder/absolutely gorgeous female Barbara Cvenič mentioned Beirut during my discussion with her about my Songs With Banjos playlist (though, for the record, I’ve never heard a banjo in a Beirut song)). Since listening to both 2006’s Gulag Orkestar and 2009’s double EP, March of the Zapotec: Music from the State of Oaxaca and Holland (the latter released under Condon’s pre-Beirut moniker, Realpeople), though, I’ve become a supporter of the band, and awaited their third full album, The Rip Tide, which was released earlier this week on Pompeii Records (a release moved up from August 30th after an Internet leak of the album).

As with Beirut’s other releases, The Rip Tide is about a half-hour of Balkan folk-infused indie rock. But this new album seems to be the continuation of an expansion of Condon’s repertoire as hinted at in Zapotec/Holland; rather than interpreting music of a certain land, like Eastern Europe on Gulag Orkestar or France on 2007’s The Flying Club Cup, or immersing himself in a land’s music and expanding upon it like with Zapotec/Holland (the first half of which notably and prominently included a Mexican funerary brass band, while the second half utilizes similar melodies in electronic rather than acoustic form), Condon synthesizes his years of musical experience and turns it into something all his own on The Rip Tide. The album begins with what seems to be an amalgam of his previous styles with Beirut and the electronica of the Holland disc, such as the opening tracks, “A Candle’s Fire” and “Santa Fe,” and the title track (the latter being, while pleasing, the track that sort of sticks out like a sore thumb, a bit like “Scenic World” on Gulag Orkestar). Songs like “Payne’s Bay” and “The Peacock” will find welcome ears from old fans of the band, as they have a much brassier (and for the latter track, ukelele-filled) sound similar to the band’s last few albums. The rest represent a totally new chapter in Beirut’s style – largely poppish piano driven ballads, with “East Harlem” and its B-side “Goshen” forming the heart of the album, with “Vagabond” and “Port of Call” at the bottom of the order.

In any case, The Rip Tide will be enjoyed by old and new fans alike and mark a milestone for Beirut’s progress as a band, reaffirming their status as one of the more inovative indie bands currently making music today. It’s an album worth multiple listens to truly enjoy the lyricism and songwriting (the latter having truly remarkable breadth) and genius musicianship of Condon and his band.

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