September 7, 2011

Test Spins: Beirut, The Rip Tide

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I feel like I’ve found a musical home with this record,” Zach Condon of Beirut told The Quietus Magazine during an interview discussing The Rip Tide, the band’s third full-length album. Beirut’s two previous albums evoked romantic notions of faraway European lands, echoed in song titles like “Cherbourg,” “Postcards from Italy,” and “Transatlantique.” In contrast, The Rip Tide speaks much more to Condon’s own roots and history.

After doing extensive Wikipedia research, I can report that Zach Condon was born and grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and played jazz in high school. After dropping out of school when he was sixteen, he traveled to Europe with his older brother, and it was there that he became aware of Balkan music for the first time. Upon returning home, Condon enrolled in the University of New Mexico to study Portuguese and photography, and recorded his first album, Gulag Orkestar, channeling his now all-too-familiar European obsession.

However, it remains that Condon is a New Mexico native, and it appears that he has rediscovered this version of himself while writing The Rip Tide. For the first time, Condon writes like he is in love with his own side of the Atlantic. In the several years that have passed since the release of Gulag Orkestar Condon’s musical style and his person have matured, and he is now at peace with his own home.

Although still very recognizable as a Beirut album, The Rip Tide is simpler in nature and much more subtle. Less obvious are the Balkan influences and complex orchestral music, but what remain are enchanting vocals layered with beautiful acoustic instruments. For me, those were always the strengths of Beirut’s music, so I rather welcome the change to a more fully developed sound.

The album opens with “A Candle’s Fire,” an energetic (for Beirut, at least) and sunny short ballad which evokes feelings of sitting around a campfire with friends. This song sets up the album to be less melancholy than previous ones. Both the music and the lyrics give the song a light feel and introduce Beirut’s updated sound to the listeners.

The song following “A Candle’s Fire” is my favorite. Called “Santa Fe,” it has quite cryptic lyrics, but strongly speaks to Condon’s love for his hometown. The simplicity of the song grabbed my attention when I heard it, and I found myself going back to replay it several times after I had listened to the album all the way through. “Sign me up, Santa Fe, and call me your son,” sings Condon, over a relatively simple beat and gentle accordion. The minimalism in this ode to Santa Fe is very captivating, and is one of the highlights of Beirut’s simplified new style.

If I had to find a complaint for The Rip Tide, it would be that the album is very short – barely clocking in at thirty minutes. Perhaps, though, the album’s songs are meant to be nostalgic snippets of Zach Condon’s experiences and memories in his home country, much like songs from previous albums were taste-testers of Zach Condon’s romantic idea of Europe. If Beirut does anything well, it is certainly nostalgia.


Original Author: Jackie Krasnokutskaya