Beirut, The Rip Tide
By krista connor
August 30, 2011
The gypsy-like free spirits in Beirut express an undercurrent of tension in their latest album, The Rip Tide. Recurring topics, like wandering as vagabonds versus finally returning home, echo throughout this nine-track album. From the plain green album cover to these repeated themes, The Rip Tide is surprisingly simple and mature, with ripples of serenity, reflection and expected Beirut-like bursts of energy flowing throughout.
We’re introduced to the album with “A Candle’s Fire,” which is filled with tambourines, tight-sounding drumbeats and explosive trumpets—typical of the band, but with a more refined, calm sound. Others like “Santa Fe,” “East Harlem” and “Port of Call” are also reminiscent of the band’s earlier albums, but contain a more cultivated tone. One difference between previous albums and The Rip Tide is the incorporation of electronic sounds and synthesizers, especially in songs like “Santa Fe.” Its synths and taut drums give the overall album a strong indie feel, while still retaining the eccentric Beirut style.
“Vagabond” is one of the more energetic songs on the album, swelling and splashing with every staccatoed note. Accompanied by the harpsichord, horns and a jumpy piano, it retains a distinct Beirut sound, with waves of restlessness that makes you want to romp along the shoreline at dusk. Lyrically, this song, like so many others on the album, flows with simplicity and repetition. The entire song is housed in these few, repeated lyrics: Left a bag of bones/ trail of stones/ for to find my way home/ Now, as the air grows cold/ the trees unfold/ and I am lost and not found. And who’d know? Although these lyrics are a simple few, they reflect a newfound loneliness: Is the vagabond lifestyle enough to live by, or is it better to bring wandering ways to an end and return home?
Hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico, front man Zach Condon and his caravan of part-time band members have dabbled in a variety of international musical styles since the band’s formation in the early 2000s. From Balkan folk to Gypsy music to whimsical indie influences, Beirut is an eclectic collection of world music. When Condon dropped out of high school at age 16 to travel throughout Europe, he said he was exposed to the world music style we hear reverberating through all of Beirut’s albums. The accordion, keyboard, saxophone, clarinet, mandolin, ukulele, horns, glockenspiel, cello, violin and percussion, along with Condon’s ethereal vocals, make up Beirut’s distinct sound. It’s no surprise the band gained fame in 2006 with their instant blog-to-mainstream-popularity debut album, Gulag Orkestar. They only collected more followers with their subsequent releases, Lon Gisland, The Flying Club Cup and March of the Zapotec/Holland.
In The Rip Tide, aside from the high-energy songs, there are a few reflective, mellow pieces like “The Peacock” and “Goshen.” The piano-led “Goshen” flows like a rowboat through a placid lake on a sleepy summer afternoon, while “The Peacock” drifts into spiraling harmonies. Soft vocals and marching drums give “Goshen” a dreamy yet conclusive feel, with lyrics like: You're on in five/ It's time you rise or fail/ They've gone before/ stood by your door all day/ but you never found it home/ a fair price I'd pay to be alone. Despite its ethereal sound, melancholy lingers through the song.
Ultimately, this mood ebbs in and out through the entire album, with its themes of lonely wandering and yearning to be home—but not finding a place there. So perhaps this is a transition album. Where will Condon and his friends find themselves months and years from now—still wandering, whether physically or figuratively? One thing is certain: no matter where life leads them, their sound has matured and the band will only continue growing. Despite seeming stuck in The Rip Tide, this album is executed with moving, effortless grace.