Beirut releases “The Rip Tide” on Pompeii Records
The Rip Tide
All photos by Kristianna Smith
Beirut’s Zachary Francis Condon has been leading the band Beirut out of Santa Fe, New Mexico since 2006. With two full length albums prior to the release of their third, The Rip Tide, Beirut has been spreading their influence non stop with constant touring and releases to coincide. Beirut’s sound of folk, pop, electronica with hints of jazz, latin and other worldly origins from Zachary Francis Condon has grabbed the attention of 100′s of thousands of people across the world and it doesn’t look like they will be stopping that influence anytime soon. With Zachary traveling to Europe before the age of 18, a constant search to expand his pallet of musical interests, precision level playing in jazz bands and a heavy influence from younger brother Ross Condon, Zachary has become one of the most unique voices in contemporary music.
With each Beirut record sourcing itself from different regions of the world, the time spent their and the history that was unearthed, the groups latest full length The Rip Tide deviates from this path and sets out to truly define the sound that Beirut had all along but was masked with the influence of other worldly experiences. The Rip Tide has been released on Zachary Francis Condon’s imprint Pompeii records. As the first Beirut full length to be released under this imprint, the band has set to redefine how they control their music, their tours and all matters dealing with the group. Beirut released the first single earlier this year for the songs ‘East Harlem’ and ‘Goshen’. 33 minutes and 9 tracks later and I was completely in touch with the reality that this is already one of the best full lengths this year. Recorded in Brooklyn, New York last year, The Rip Tide has been pressed on vinyl along with the CD and digital versions.
A warm, swarthy sweep of accordion breathes life into the first few seconds of The Rip Tide—Beirut’s new album—and from here until the upbeat sea-chant of a finish I am awash with melody and repose. Zach Condon and his band of indie-folk gypsies are shakin’ their hips yet again, and with cool fervor this time around. As a fan of their old-new noise, I always became sentimental and nostalgic when thinking of Beirut; I was impressed with their dedication to a forlorn art, their blowing of trumpets to signal the dawn of an former age in a well-worn time—but I rarely pictured them as ground-breaking artists. They harkened to the past and its sound, despite their boyish front man, their love of pop festivals, and New Mexican plates. But now, with The Rip Tide, it feels as if the band that I know and love has found their own song to sing.
Many things, the best things about Beirut really, remain the same. Condon is still melting hearts, trumpets still pull the song to and fro, the drums still pop and there is still a tuba bumping around in the back of most songs. Likewise, the structure of the songs are consistent with their previous releases: an entrancing opening line—lilting accordion most likely—cuts to a smooth voice that reminds one of European villages, then cuts again to the septet banging away Balkan style, and then back again. Their simple method sounds good and is seemingly unshakable, but as the album plays (and plays again) a new Beirut begins to take shape.
The Rip Tide, the third major release from a band that started as a solo project, takes the reliable and aurally pleasing formula it created and polishes it like a suit of armor, one now ready to stand before the Queen (of England? Maybe. More likely the Empress of the late Sublime Ottoman State). The mix is beautiful. Gone are the days of hardly heard drum lines or confusing which horn is which, each instrument is clear and concise. All the noise they tend to make seems to settle while I listen, almost as if they are in a concert hall.
This superb sound can be heard in “Santa Fe,” a song that captures the magic and harmony of the Condon’s home town and state. The slightly warped piano, showcasing their use of effects post electronic-Beirut (aka Realpeople Holland), bounces around while Condon belts “whatever comes through the door, see the face to face.” He sings with passion and longing, all while the trumpets swell in a way that makes you think their home is your home. The drums and bass kick in and we are all a-groove. Take me to this place, please.
Continuing the formal comparative analysis, The Rip Tide features the classic Beirut horns much less than previous albums, a possible schism for the die-hard brass heads, but for most of us I think it makes for a more relaxed record. It swings and moves, but it does so in a controlled way, something that feels mature and refined. We can still hear the horns though, they blow through most of “Payne’s Bay,” the first song on the album to deal heavily with the sea, and give the song its triumphant gait. They are featured in the chorus and bridge movements of many other songs on the album, notably “A Candle’s Fire” and “Vagabond.” They continue to command the singing melodies that Beirut is so wonderful for, and coat every song in their particular brilliance. The frenzy, however, is gone.
The main difference on The Rip Tide, that which separates it from its predecessors, is the use of piano. As was observed when Beirut released “East Harlem” and “Goshen”—stand-out songs on an already phenomenal album—piano drives almost every song. I think this grounds the music differently than when the horns or ukulele were the sound Beirut revolved around. The piano makes the album more accessible, more cognizant of this time and this age, rather than a tribute to one past. It is the key factor in their forward step. This can be heard all over the album, but notably in the title track “The Rip Tide.” The song starts with a lively melodic piano riff, slowly builds into light percussion—pauses—then hits a sublimely mellow groove as the soft-peeling horns and keys take us sailing through Condon’s lush words. With “The Rip Tide” we get the full force of Beirut as innovative songwriters.
Finally, above it all—the thick brass pumping jive into your step, the vocal harmonies and horizon filled melodies, the fullness and body that Beirut has shown with this album—there is Zach Condon’s voice. The boy crooner that belted his heart out in songs like “Postcards from Italy,” “Nantes,” and “My Night With the Prostitute from Marseilles” is now a man—his voice continues to search, for the pure for the perfect for what has been forgotten, I don’t know, but he is no longer seeking his sound. Condon’s lyrics are flung like a net to catch all his conscious knows; he stands firm with his voice while expanding his register. He soulfully sings, with a chorus ensemble no less, “Where should I begin, begin? He’s the only one who knows the words” in the not-quite-acapella prophecy that is “The Peacock.” You can hear him reaching something on this album, something deep within himself that has steeped in his heart and the world.
This review has described the transformation of an old Beirut into a new one. Of an old sound sung beautifully to the creation of something original, something very powerful and real. The final point I want to make in regard to this change is the sense of place that is different on this record. Beirut is known for their ability to capture a sound—a dance of French horns, a Turkish melody backed by high brass lines—and these sounds emulate a specific place. Paris, Istanbul, a tavern just south of Prague, even Brooklyn and the indie movement that pours from its walls. The Rip Tide again departs from this norm—it is detached, it does not feel as if it has a specific home or a particular time. It drifts and wanders about, aimless in one sense, but very purposeful in its search for truth and hard-earned experience. It is this aspect that makes The Rip Tide feel as if Beirut has reached their own soul, and is ready to share it with the world. – Danny Zweier and Erik Otis
Order the LP, CD or MP3 from Midheaven Mailorder HERE
1. A Candle’s Fire
2. Santa Fe
3. East Harlem
5. Payne’s Bay
6. The Rip Tide
8. The Peacock
9. Port of Call
Zach Condon – vocal / trumpet / ukelele
Perrin Cloutier – accordion / piano
Nick Petree – drums / percussion
Paul Collins – electric bass / upright bass
Kelly Pratt – trumpet / euphonium
Ben Lanz – trombone / tuba / piano
Tue. Aug. 2 –Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix w/ Owen Pallett
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Tue. Sep. 6 — Manchester, UK @ Manchester Academy
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