The third album by Zach Condon’s world-folk outfit Beirut moves beyond the narrow thematic exercises of the band’s previous records, instead blending and building from everything the 25-year-old Condon attempted previously. The Rip Tide pivots nimbly from the techno-pop of the catchy, heartfelt “Santa Fe” to the orchestrated ’70s AM pop of the uptempo “Vagabond” to the cinematic swirl on the dreamy title track. And throughout, horns, organ, accordion, and tambourine create that distinctly Beirut feeling of wandering idly through a bustling plaza in a European metropolis. The LP runs through nine songs in 30 brisk minutes—no duds, no waste.
The Rip Tide will probably be the band’s biggest hit yet, because it’s hooky, full, and easy to enjoy. Yet it does sacrifice some uniqueness. The songs on The Rip Tide wouldn’t sound too out of place on albums by The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright, Antony & The Johnsons, The Magnetic Fields, or Sufjan Stevens. The record has that familiar “indie exotica” vibe working. Granted, Condon has always lived in that space, but earlier Beirut releases were quirkier, and more committed to exploring archaic musical forms. Sonically, The Rip Tide is sweeter, cleaner, and yes, a little blander.
But songs do matter—no matter how much some atmospherics-obsessed indie types want to pretend otherwise—and Condon has as good a feel for structure, melody, and phrasemaking as any of his peers. Just listen to “East Harlem,” which transitions from a simple piano-horn-guitar ditty to something grander and more urgent in its second half, as Condon sings about how he equates sound with his favorite people and places. Or listen to “A Candle’s Fire” and “Goshen,” which seem to borrow melodies from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” and Bob Seger’s “Still The Same,” respectively. On the surface, Beirut has nothing in common with classic rock, except that Condon also knows that a memorable tune can bring disparate cultures together as persuasively as any fancy arrangement.