By Melanie McGovern
Zach Condon, now 25, began his descent into the creative depths of world music years ago as a teenage traveller in Eastern Europe. Now returning on Forte Distribution with The Rip Tide, released back in the States on his own starter label Pompeii, we hear a more mature sound and one striving to explore more of the self than the aesthetics, cultures, people and sounds of those foreign lands traversed as Beirut on 2006′s Gulag Orkestar and 2007′s The Flying Club Cup.
Recorded in four locations; Upstate New York, Brooklyn, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, The Rip Tide, clocking in at just over 30 minutes, and comprised of nine-tracks, is a shorter album than its predecessors, but one too that looks to concentrate on a sound that has been honed over the course of Beirut’s career. Regulars Perrin Cloutier and Paul Collins appear on accordion and bass respectively, while Ben Lanz (trombone), Nick Petree (drums) and Kelly Pratt on horns assist in fleshing out the New Mexico band’s third LP with a full and yet free-of-fuss sound. In addition the sextet are joined by violinist Heather Trost of gypsy folk duo A Hawk and a Hacksaw, alongside Brooklyn-based songsmith Sharon Van Etten.
While The Rip Tide continues with the intricate, rhythmic sounds of accordions and ukeleles, interesting percussive arrangements, triumphant horns and military snares, it strives to hone in the stylings for which Beirut are acclaimed: ”For years I was picking up new instruments once a month”, Condon states, ”and for this [record] I was trying to focus a little more, stick with piano, ukulele and trumpet.” That old familiar troubadour vocal is more reined in too – words are annunciated with a certainty rather than a marginal state of affectedness we may have seen in his earlier works, while thematically too we’re taken back to the New World. ’Santa Fe’ concerns Condon’s hometown rather than bringing to mind the mood and voice of a French city or bustling Eastern European market town. While the furthest departure from traditional Beirut is the restrained ’Goshen’ – both poised and poignant, it is a piano ballad free of the fuss and fervour of his previous instrumental flirtations.
This is an album embroiled in tales of love, friendship and the contrasting aspects of solitude and togetherness. The Rip Tide bursts with a life of its own and somehow amalgamates all these experiences of travel and culture, transporting them back home to New Mexico for a closer examination of the self.