Beirut: The Rip Tide

Music and Art

Now based in Brooklyn, Beirut has developed from Condon’s bedroom recordings as a teenager into a full band effort; in 2006, debut album Gulag Orkestar channelled the influences of Balkan folk music following a trip to France where Condon discovered a Parisian fascination with gypsy folk. The following year, The Flying Club Cup reflected Condon’s passion for French chanson. On The Rip Tide, Beirut loses the conceptual approach of their prior releases, but none of their distinct sound.

Having fallen from a bridge as a young child, Condon is unable to play the guitar, and instead favours the trumpet and ukulele. Condon’s distinct voice, undoubtedly influenced by his hero and fellow-ukulele player Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields), turns pop songs into ballads, whilst the accordion of Perrin Cloutier maintains their folk credentials.

Bringing their tried-and-tested formula to The Rip Tide sees them operating in comfortable territory. East Harlem, the third track and first single from the album, is a catchy and upbeat number, and Santa Fe is in a similar vein. Both seem to celebrate their respective geographies, whilst Goshen and The Peacock display a much more mellow sound. The former is driven by a three-chord piano pattern whereas the latter is held together by a simple accordion drone. Both tracks allow Condon’s powerful voice to be made clear, but lyrically he is left somewhat exposed. Condon has said in interviews that he dislikes writing song lyrics, much preferring the creation of a song and melody to the lyrical content, and this is quite obvious. His lyrics are simple and short, but this is far from a criticism – Condon praises the gibberish vocals of Sigur Rós as a method to provide melody without implicit meaning. For Beirut, it is the flourish of his trumpet that is left to do the talking, and the record is all the better for it. Where he selects a sparser sound however, as on Goshen, the songs are weaker without the brass section. Album-closer Port of Call proves a highlight and returns to their upbeat trademark sound, allowing the melody to linger long after the nine tracks conclude.

At little over 33 minutes, this is certainly a short and fleeting album, without the same temporal development that their previous albums possessed, let alone the conceptual. More so than their previous releases, The Rip Tide is an album channeling the baroque pop feel of artists like Sufjan Stevens whilst maintaing a world music flavour. Having experimented with Balkan and French influences this is Beirut at their most honest, drawing ideas from closer to home. A solid effort, but much easier forgotten than their earlier efforts, and with less internal cohesion than their more developed preceding albums.

3/5, Ashley Cooke

The fusion of elements of folk roots with the sensibilities of “21st Century Indie” has become increasingly popular of late, giving rise to such acts as the Decemberists and Fleet Foxes, and catapulting previously little known acts such as Iron and Wine into the public consciousness. The third album from Beirut (essentially an alias under which singer-songwriter Zac Condon channels his creative output) is firmly, and perhaps doggedly, set into this mould.

It certainly appears that Beirut have further settled into the faux-folk, eastern-tinged indie groove that was introduced in their previous two albums. The Rip Tide is a rather more upbeat affair than its predecessors, whilst at the same time retaining the melancholy and angst of Condon’s strong yet warbling vocals. There is little variation between the tracks, which all follow the same blueprint – an often-marching drumbeat underneath lush (if unambitious) layers of piano and horns.

Whilst the inclusion in every song of that oh-so-familiar trumpetry does begin to wear after about 15 minutes, some tracks undeniably stand out. The catchy synth-led Santa Fe, is almost impossible not to take a fancy to, and the yearning horn hook that characterizes the single East Harlem is reminiscent, like all the best Beirut tracks, of bygone times in foreign, sepia-tinged countries. And in Goshen, we glimpse the influence of sweet McCartney-esque rock balladry, before the inevitable horn-drum hooks make their persistent return.

The record is introspective both lyrically and in its arrangements. When, on The Peacock, Condon sings ‘He’s the only one who knows the words’, it might as well refer to himself, the lyrical turns being bemusing and sometimes too obscure. The production and arrangement is understated and organic, with the vocals buried deep in a simple mix that, whilst in the spirit of the album as a whole, often masks the lyrics.

There is enough here to distinguish The Rip Tide from its musical colleagues – the wistful romanticism, the distinctive and expressive vocals, the continental tinges. As popular music goes, this is classy, quality stuff. However, it remains conservative in refusing to evolve in style from Beirut’s earlier albums – in fact, it regresses a touch, eschewing some of the french elements that made the previous effort, The Flying Club Cup, stand out. In conclusion: a sure bet, but hard to get too excited about!

3.5/5, Tom Blackburn

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