Multi-talented maestro and near-prodigy Zach Condon has done it again. The third studio album from his band Beirut, The Rip Tide, has a subtle undercurrent of charm that grips you and pulls you into its whimsical world of sepia-toned nostalgia and gentle melancholy.
The Rip Tide, recorded on Condon’s own label Pompeii Records, is somewhat brighter than its predecessors Gulag Orkestar (2006) and The Flying Club Cup (2007). Condon’s influences of Eastern European and Balkan folk music almost disappear, allowing him to focus more on classic pop. While Beirut became known for its instrumental variety and world-music sound, Condon keeps The Rip Tide fresh by straying back to his roots.
“Santa Fe” evokes the sun-soaked dry desert air of New Mexico, Condon’s birthplace, in a jaunty electro-pop arrangement of simple percussion, piano, bass, and some horns. His songwriting proves he can create a sense of something other than the narrow streets and café scene of Old Europe (not that there’s anything wrong with that). “Santa Fe” and “East Harlem” are the return home, back to a sparer sound based on stately piano pop and easygoing rhythms.
“Payne’s Bay” too feels like a step to the past, to the old-time Western frontier or a provincial New England town. Sweeping horns and a subtly swaying nautical current give way to more bombastic brass and booming percussion. It stands in contrast to “Goshen,” a beautiful meditation on missed opportunities (romantic and otherwise), stripped down to hazy piano and vocals.
The album’s title track is a masterful composition, starting with bare piano chords before percussion and trumpets cascade in, then becoming distilled back to muted piano. It’s neither bright nor sad, but falls somewhere in the realm of quotidian life, the sign of Condon’s maturation as a songwriter (which is impressive, since he was only 19 when his first record was released).
And just for kicks, The Rip Tide closes with the roving travel anthem “Port of Call,” a throwback to Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Club Cup replete with sweet ukelele, folk melodies, and toy piano. Beirut have a reliable history of cranking out fantastic records. If the band continued to write Gulag Orkestars for the rest of its career, its music would still be good. But The Rip Tide shows Condon evolving as a musician, moving forward with vitality, still full of untapped potential for future records.