On the Record: The Rip Tide by Beirut

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September 29, 2011

10:30 PM

The popular Sante Fe-based indie band Beirut can take you around the world in half an hour, literally. In their stellar new album, “The Rip Tide,” the group continues to perfect its breezy world music into something large and universal, while maintaining intimate and personal themes of home and belonging.

Unlike their previous studio efforts, their instrumental focus on “The Rip Tide” consists of mainly piano, strings and horns. Leading up to the album’s release, Beirut’s artistic leader and vocalist Zach Condon said that though he loves experimenting with various instruments, such as the organ and ukulele on their 2006 breakthrough track “The Elephant Gun,” he has decided to hone his songwriting ability with this unique trio of instruments. Beirut’s new release features much more intricate and advanced arrangements.

Beirut has not turned into just another indie band with Baroque influences. Close your eyes on the
eponymous track “The Rip Tide,” and the sweeping strings could easily conjure up a stroll through the French countryside or a seashore somewhere on the Mediterranean. And, surprisingly enough, you can even detect a bit of synth experimentation on the jittery second track “Santa Fe,” which they pulled off excellently.

In addition to their continued success in instrumentation, the most pleasant surprise on “The Rip Tide” was the radical improvement in Condon’s lyrics. Although they were never poor, on this newest album they are more of a focal point. I can’t count the number of times I eagerly waited for the sweeping strings midway through their 2007 masterpiece “Nantes.” Now I can’t wait for Condon to gently sing “now as the air grows cold, the trees unfold, and I am lost,” on “Vagabond.”

Condon has lived a lifestyle that any young dreamer (or indie music fan) would envy: He dropped out of high school at 16 and traveled around Europe with his older brother. You can see these experiences’s influence on the album, with the concept of home and comforting places providing much of the emotional force behind the album. But this does not come across as whiny or immature; in fact, Condon’s deep and sonorous voice resonates more when singing rather melancholy lyrics.

If “The Rip Tide” has a fault, it is its brevity. At 33 minutes, it is a bit short to be considered a full LP, but a
bit too heavy to be an EP. I predict that in the future “The Rip Tide” will be viewed as a transition album,
Beirut’s shift from a world music-focused act into a more pop-oriented band with world influences. This, of course, arises from the fact that Beirut is still a very youthful group, Condon being only 25 years old. He just needs a few more years to fully grasp his artistic visions.

Nonetheless one simply can’t go wrong with the album, and with autumn approaching, I know for a fact I will still be playing it, and I will still be dreaming of the warm foreign countrysides the sounds encapsulate.

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