Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Rip Tide by Beirut

I appreciate that Beirut aren't for everyone.  Their first three albums were heavily influenced by world music: Balkan folk music on 2006's flugelhorn -heavy Gulag Orkestar; French chanson on the second album (lots of accordions this time) The Flying Club Cup; Mexican mariachi on The March of the Zapotec from 2009.  I happen to love the first two especially and enjoy the thematic way that songwriter Zach Condon approaches the production of an album, but new record The Rip Tide serves as a riposte to those who would claim that Condon can only write 'concept' albums.

Album opener A Candle's Fire may begin with a beautifully mournful accordion solo and yes, that may be a mariachi-style brass band joining in at 00:16, but this is not another musical tour in album form.  The song titles alone speak volumes: previous albums have taken the listener to Bratislava, Rhineland, and Cherbourg, amongst others.  On The Rip Tide, the titles tend towards the abstract rather than the geographical, the furthest they take the listener is Santa Fe and East Harlem.  If there are any influences at work on The Rip Tide, it's straightforward (or as straightforward as Beirut ever get, anyway) American pop music.  Musically and lyrically, this record is closest in style to their Lon Gisland EP; those of you with eagle-eyes will spot that the title of the EP referenced another American location. 

There is more 'space' on this album; more moments where Beirut allow the piano, guitar or ukelele to play unencumbered, which allows extra focus on the lyrics.  It also makes the moments when the trumpet, flugelhorn, accordion, trombone and myriad other sounds rise up all the more effective.  Title track The Rip Tide opens with a quiet piano line before being joined by a brass section, which then fades away for the first verse.  Throughout the song the two elements - acoustic vs. full instrumentation - ebb and flow to evoke the image of waves moving in and out on the tide.

A Candle's Fire has a confessional quality to it, as Condon sings "I, it's certain from afar, have failed to pull my weight."  Santa Fe is more upbeat; almost, even, a Beirut song you could dance to.  And if the album never quite reaches the promise of these incredible opening tracks, there is still much to appreciate. 

1 comment:

  1. great review! I love Beirut, haven't heard the new album yet but need to after reading this.