Beirut was one of the first bands I fell in love with when I first entered the indie music scene back towards the end of my high school years. Back then (and still often today), I was drawn into many bands based off of the power of a lead singer’s vocals and Zach Condon’s baritone voice is one of the most captivating I had ever heard. His voice, coupled with an arrangements of instruments I would not have believed I would fall in love with so fast, were a perfect taste of what the indie music world would offer me in the coming years. Beirut showed me that I needed to throw away my prior beliefs on music and start listening to anything I could get into my ears. Thanks to the internet, that has been days and days of music, but Beirut has always had a specially place in my music library. My music tastes have grown substantially since I first listened to Beirut and that may explain my coming review of his latest release, The Rip Tide.
Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Cub Cup were extravagant with massive backing bands that left next to no room on the stage when Beirut was performing live. Listening to these albums feels almost overpowering and mesmerizing in a perfect way. That is one reason way The Rip Tide feels like a partial let down and almost boring. The most striking difference of this album compared to his earlier work is the lack of powerful ensembles.
Smaller, more refined instruments that initially protrude boredom on the album have replaced the expansive arrangements that Zach Condon and Beirut used to gain the love of critics and fans. It takes a little while to get used to this minimalist Beirut, but once listeners realize this key aspect of the album it is easier to realize The Rip Tide still has redeeming characteristics.
The first single released from the album, “East Harlem” , illustrated that the old, extravagant Beirut would not appear on The Rip Tide as they had in the past, but the same basic music would remain. There has been much criticism towards Sufjan Stevens for the direction in went with Age of Adz (not from me, I love it) and there was some worry Beirut may too move in a more electronic direction. The 2009 release of Realpeople Holland by Zach Condon indicated he may have been pursuing the same path that Sufjan eventually embarked on, but with the release of the single at least those fear were quelled.
East Harlem brought the European folk and distinct instruments Beirut has always used in a scaled down fashion. Just like the rest of the album, the single brought Beirut in a smaller, almost calmer package with the their basic structure still intact. It may not be what most listeners expect, but it has its own unique greatness in the continuing Beirut legacy. This album may take more than one listen to love, but that feeling most likely will arrive. The Rip Tide shows that Beirut (Zach Condon) is continually growing and after the Beirut lull of 2010 we should be happy we have more Beirut for our ears as the summer draws to a close.
WPGU Music Staff Rating: W-P-G
Key Tracks: “East Harlem” and “Santa Fe”.
Recommended if you like: Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver.
W = Poor
W-P = Fair
W-P-G = Great
W-P-G-U = An instant classic!