Beirut’s third full album finds Zach Condon and company pulling back from the globe-trotting dalliances of their earlier efforts, in favour of a lush summation of their musical expeditions to date. From its simple titles to its clear melodies, ‘The Rip Tide’ is, by some distance, Beirut’s most accessible record.
The album opens with sixteen bars of reed organ, a warm-up of measured breathing before the brass riff of ‘A Candle’s Fire’ throws open the curtains and lets daylight in. There’s a celebratory confidence to the song’s arrangement that suggests Condon is knowingly in full control of his precocious talents, boosted by an even greater mass of mariachi trumpets appearing halfway through.
‘Santa Fe’ – Condon’s hometown – rattles along on a bed of shuffling drum programs and filtered keys, with yet more long lines of brass filling in the gaps. Following 2009’s divided ‘March of the Zapotec’/’Holland’ (whose two EPs paired Condon’s collaboration with Mexico’s Jimenez Band with material credited to his Realpeople electronica alias) it is perhaps Beirut’s most successful attempt at fusing home electronics with live instrumentation.
The programming returns, more delicately, on the title track. The blended brass and strings ebb and flow, while Condon’s mournful vocals add to the downbeat, night-swimming feel. What these songs, and other highlights such as the swinging ‘Vagabond’ and rolling finale ‘Port of Call‘ make clear, is that Beirut has conquered the occasional worthiness that crept into its earlier appropriations of international music. Despite Condon’s enthusiastic travels in Europe and Central America, there was always a flavour of privileged, guilty dalliance to Beirut’s magpie mixing of traditional music. On ‘The Rip Tide’, it finally feels like Beirut has absorbed this international palette into its DNA, without either patronising or glossing its sources.
What this satisfying album does is show all sides of Beirut at its best. Where Condon’s restlessness takes him next is open to conjecture.