Beirut – The Rip Tide

Posted on August 16, 2011


words by Robert Pollard 

written for High Voltage 

Zach Condon has been somewhat quiet of late but this month sees the release of The Rip Tide, Beirut’s third full-length musical foray. Their last studio album was the superb Flying Club Cup, released four years ago to much fanfare and triumphalism, it built upon the success of The Gulag Orkestar, which had catapulted Condon from relative obscurity to musical deity. In the intervening years there have been fleeting live appearances and the release of a double EP to keep us going but a sense of yearning for another LP has long engulfed fans of the band. What Condon has conjured is nothing short of sensational, with a piece of work that sits snugly in Beirut’s ever-growing catalogue of stunning works. It’s an outstanding album which further proves Condon’s mastery of the songwriting craft and places him firmly in the pantheon of modern-day musical greats.

At 25 Condon is developing into something special. His first album was largely recorded in his bedroom but despite the production limitations it proved he could write songs gloriously stuck in the past and full of creative zest. On Postcards From Italy, a track that never tires despite ceaseless listens, he managed to capture the essence of nostalgia, with a wistful sound and lyrics that express lost youthful exuberance. His follow-up album saw a further increase in attention, with a production quality that matched rival bands and a brilliant set of songs heavily influenced by his regular trips to europe. This album also saw the band embark on an exciting collaboration with the outstanding Parisian film maker Vincent Moon, creating a series of live videos that, not only displayed the adaptability of Beirut songs, but also demonstrated just how impressive Condon’s voice is. This prolific period saw Beirut lauded as leading musical lights until their recent interlude allowed other bands to take that mantle. The release of The Rip Tide, however, may just see Beirut return to their position at the top table of music.

Recorded last winter in New York and released under Condon’s own label Pompeii, the album consists of nine beautifully crafted songs which clock in at little over half an hour and display the kind of brilliance that made Beirut’s previous recordings so wonderful. Condon’s ability to produce plaintive melodies wrapped in a smooth croon remains the defining feature of the band’s sound, ensconced in music that is incredibly striking, with dramatic brass flourishes and snare-driven drums that create sudden surges in intensity and volume. There is also a new-found pop emphasis, particularly obvious on singles Santa Fe and East Harlem, two tracks that have a danceability to them without steering too far away from the classic Beirut sound. Condon’s fondness for the antiquated has always been the hallmark of his work and it remains steadfast on this album.

Strings, horns and piano are once again central to the arrangements, a clear sign of a back to basics approach for Condon after some experimentation on last year’s March of the Zapotec EP. By returning to the staple Beirut sounds, Condon has fulfilled the brief and written a collection of songs that evoke a feeling of 18th century Europe; full of melodrama, beauty and romanticism. Condon displays a myriad of talents but it is his vocal delivery that will always be his most lethal weapon, with an emotive tone that provides the perfect vessel for his nostalgic lyrics that hark back to times past. It really is an inimitable approach that sets him apart from so many other vocalists. There is always an air of solemnity in his work which can turn some people off but for those who appreciate the mournful element his rich voice brings he can do no wrong. His vocal sounds particularly impressive on opening track A Candle’s Fire, a song which theatrically announces Beirut’s return and sees Condon confidently reassert his vocal ability with a smooth, mellifluous delivery that fits perfectly with the Band’s overall approach.

Zach Condon has long been acknowledged as a brilliant songwriter, composer and musician but any hiatus from the ever evolving world of music often raises question marks as to whether an artist can remain relevant amongst their more active peers. On this album Condon proves that any such concerns where Beirut are concerned are unfounded, with an assortment of beautiful songs that will endure far beyond the album’s release date.

Released – August 29th on Pompeii 

Track listing: 

A Candle’s Fire
Santa Fe
East Harlem
Payne’s Bay
The Rip Tide
The Peacock
Port of Call

stream the album here

Posted in: Music