When Beirut – the band not the capital of Lebanon – released their third studio album The Rip Tide the reviews were generally favorable, but a little critical of a “change” in sound. If you are not familiar with Beirut let me fill you in on what type of music they play. The band, which is truly the brainchild of Santa Fe native Zachary Condon, blends indie folk with Balkan influences. The result is this effortless combination of accordion, horns, tender vocals.
Beirut’s first two albums are strong European blends. Eastern European to be exact. The melodies are smothered with these musical sentimentalities and it is not surprising to get lost in Condon’s attachment to non-American world music. This is one of the reasons why Condon and the band has garnered a huge fan base. We all look for different sounds and musical experiences. Condon’s tender, European croon (because I can’t describe it any other way), combined with the monumental accordion of Perrin Cloutier, percussion by Nick Petree, skillful bass of Paul Collins, and brass work by Ben Lanz, Kelly Pratt, and Condon himself, form a beautiful Eastern music symphony that is a pleasure to listen to.
The Rip Tide, though, demonstrates a bit of a change from these elements that have initially made this band quite well known. This transformation has lessened the bands appeal for some. For me, Condon finally comes home.
The Rip Tide was recorded in a six-month reclusive session in a cabin near the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. If you want to close yourself off from the modern world for a while Bethel, NY, right off of 17, a long stretch of highway that I frequented going back and forth to Binghamton for school, is a good place to do it. The result? An American album with European influences as opposed to the other way around. And, in my opinion, the best songs on this album are stronger than any Condon has written in the past.
There are some absolute gems on the album. “Santa Fe” is a jaunty ode to his hometown. “East Harlem” is a true indie/pop song, also somewhat fast-paced with the trademark accordion and horns. But the title track “The Rip Tide” is the clear best song on this album. Why? It provides the best example of the blend of Balkan Folk and American Western.
The initial piano lays down a melody that will persist through the song’s 4:23 second existence. Layered on top of it is some rising percussion and the light striking of something that sounds like hollow metal (another element that remains throughout the song). This flows into horns that remind me of, well, Santa Fe. And here is what is so magical. These horns are multi-faceted. They both take on elements of Eastern European folk and old-school American westerns (similar to the album Rome which combined Italian composition with spaghetti westerns).
The song is carried by this creative melody and Zach Condon’s distinctive drawn-out voice that is supported by some back-up vocals in this piece. The horns are simply magical and they totally carry the song, though. That is my point of focus. And at the very end when a lone trumpet can be heard holding onto its last breath over the piano that began the song the listener is shocked to find a somewhat religious aspect to the song – a heavenly togetherness.
The lyric is short and repeated twice. It targets loneliness. I will leave you with it to ponder as you listen to the song over and over and over again.
And this is the house where I feel alone Feel alone now
And this is the house where I Could be unknown Be alone now
So the waves and I found the rolling tide So the waves and I found the rip tide