CD Review: Beirut, The Rip Tide

Music that makes me want to listen to it, that is how I would describe The Rip Tide, the new album from Beirut. As a listener relatively new to the band (having heard only “Mimizan ” from 2009’s charity album Dark Was the Night and the 2007 EP Elephant Gun) I find their sound is familiar and eclectic.

Beirut comes from Santa Fe, New Mexico, yet their sound is far broader than the Tex-Mex valley from which they hail. The band began when frontman Zachary Condon started experimenting with his own style of Balkan folk influenced songwriting, in college. Beirut has grown at the right time for its sound, being a unique blend of Eastern European folk with contemporary indie sprinkled with just the right amount of synth.

Indie music today is full of rich arrangements (Fleet Foxes, tThe National, Yann Tiersen), as well as cultural influences (think of Gogol Bordello or Calexico) and has many driven and musically astute fronters (such as Sufjan Stevens or Bon Iver). So where does that leave Condon and Beirut?

Eschewing Western pop-music tropes and crafting personal soaring orchestrations plant Beirut firmly in a niche alongside the aforementioned bands. The Rip Tide opens with “A Candle’s Fire,” a smouldering little symphonic number. Its marching rhythm and horns set out a feel prevailing throughout the entire album. The maturity of the songwriting is striking; Condon’s age belies his lyricism.

The soundscapes can fit well along side Hot Chip . Well, think of melodic danceable tunes with flugelhorns. In fact, horns appear on all the tracks. Brooding and swelling on the track “The Peacock,” the mood showcases a simmering restraint. The Rip Tide has a sea-like piano riff, taking the listener into Condon’s introspection on his past. The album’s standout track is “Vagabond,” opening with piano, quickly adding a tambourine and horns. It is at once vintage and new.

The layered sound of Condon’s vocals add to the instrumentation of accordion and melodica. These quirky instruments are familiar to many indie or folk fans. Having the right arrangement of percussion and strings allow for such quirky devices to add a certain filigree to the compositions. Condon’s creativity really shows.

There is a select superior appeal to certain music fans. The album can be absorbed by the trend-setters and trend-followers alike, without complaint of who got there first. The album is completely accessible to those non-versed in “indie folk-pop,” and it’s a notch on the belt for those who want to keep up their music collections. Either way you want to take it, The Rip Tide is a great listen.

Four stars out of five.