Beirut leader Zach Condon’s music is often synonymous with the exotic mysteries of world travel. Since Beirut’s last album, 2007’s The Flying Club Cup, sang a love letter to France (with a 2009 stop-off in Mexico for the March of the Zapotec EP) many have asked where his songs would voyage next. Lots of guesses, but few predicted the inward journey Condon has achieved on The Rip Tide, an album with the most introspective and memorable songs of his young career.
Recorded in Upstate New York, Brooklyn and, of course, Condon’s hometowns of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, The Rip Tide marks a distinct leaping off point for Beirut. Musically, songs have a harmonic immediacy that contrasts the complexities of Zapotec’s Mexican full orchestra compositions. These songs started as small melodies, conceived on piano or ukulele, then built upon by the entire band’s contributions in the studio, before undergoing a paring down and retrofitting by Condon. What results is a record that sounds like it could have been recorded in one session, with exciting rhythms matching the upbeat horns and contrasting the mournful strings. In terms of style, no direct geographical affiliation to be exhumed. Rather, what emerges is a style that belongs uniquely and distinctly to Beirut, one that has actually been there all along.
Lyrically, Condon exposes a depth of honesty that outstrips the simplified nomadic troubadour image of his past. The songs speak of love, friendship, isolation and community, touching on universal human themes that are less fabricated stories than impressions of life at a quarter century of age. Songs are no longer about imagining places you haven’t been; they’re about places of which we are all extremely familiar, some of them too familiar.
This dramatic shift expands Beirut’s palate without weighing the music down. Condon has coated serious lyrics with his greatest tunes ever. The second track, “Santa Fe,” is the best pop song he has yet written, a jumpy ode to the town of his youth, and an early sign that The Rip Tide is all about the staycation. Of particular note is “Goshen,” a torch song that wraps itself in Condon’s delicate piano phrases at a level of intimacy never heard before on a Beirut song.
The album is on Pompeii Records, a label started and wholly owned by Condon. Pompeii is a fully independent, artist run, label and it is releasing The Rip Tide internationally. This extreme level of creative control is what the band has always preferred. Shows often sell-out because they choose to play smaller, more intimate venues. This connection directly to fans extends to The Rip Tide release itself, the desire to be able to 100% decide what their music will sound, look, and feel like, not to mention how it can be obtained.
Griffin Rodriguez’s production is, once again, immaculate. The performances of the band – Perrin Cloutier on accordion, Paul Collins on bass, Ben Lanz on trombone, Nick Petree on drums, and Kelly Pratt on horns – are spot-on. With contributions by such esteemed colleagues as violinist Heather Trost (A Hawk and a Hacksaw) and Sharon Van Etten, The Rip Tide reveals greater levels the more you explore. And you don’t even have to travel very far.