There has always been a searching, exploratory quality to Beirut‘s songs, whether expressed through Zac Condon’s penetrating, emotive lyrics or the vast, disparate musical landscapes that he mines with each new release. On The Rip Tide, Condon seems a bit more settled in than he has on his restless prior releases, but he’s far from complacent here, and still on a quest to find this ever elusive place called home. Whether he finds it or not isn’t quite clear by the end of the record, but what is evident is that Condon has crafted his most intricate, intimate album yet, while also fashioning indelible, timeless songs that are easily accessible to listeners both new and old.
There are still plenty of warm brass flourishes throughout the album (it wouldn’t quite be Beirut without them), as well as the old-world charm of Eastern European folk traditions that Condon has revitalized and refashioned. But there are warmer, more immediate melodies to be found on The Rip Tide, colouring these affectionate new songs with a rich affinity and a tranquil sense of tenderness. But like any enjoyable journey, it is over far too soon, leaving the listener with a feeling of nostalgia for a grand time that has passed before they knew it, as well as an intense desire to repeat the process all over again.
The album gets off to an exceptionally bright start, with the horn-laden radiance of ‘A Candle’s Fire,’ followed by the majestic ‘Santa Fe,’ which is easily one of the best songs Condon has ever written in his scant 25 years. It’s an uplifting, ebullient number that has a bounce and a pep to it that is at once refreshing and new, while also having a venerable, ageless appeal that is timeless and true. It swings and soars like nothing so far in Beirut’s stellar back catalog.
Condon eases things back a bit with the somber lament of ‘East Harlem,’ a lovely number that is tinged with both sadness and hope, as is the delicate, piano-driven ‘Goshen,’ a mournful, gorgeous track that works simply because it doesn’t shy away from its vulnerability but instead embraces it and bears it like a burden it must eventually unload. And by the end of the tender, touching number it seems that the pain expressed at the beginning of the song has eased somewhat by the end, and a new day shows signs of dawning.
The funereal feel continues a bit on the dirge-like beginning of ‘Payne’s Bay,’ before the song shifts tempo at the mid-point, finishing with a bristling, brassy confidence that belies its solemn start, while also being augmented by the whispery backing-vocals of Sharon Van Etten (who also sings on ‘A Candle’s Fire’). The title track represents a real stylistic shift for Condon, with the lush, electronic flourishes setting the tone and tempo of the decidedly modern sounding number, before retreating to more familiar sonic territory as the song draws to a close. But again, it’s such an honest, sincere track that you can’t help but be drawn in close to the raw emotions on display.
The wandering theme is revisited on ‘Vagabond,’ a jaunty, piano-driven number that would make a great soundtrack to any visit home for the holidays. And while ‘The Peacock’ encompasses the wonder of seeing something beautiful for the first (or last) time, the album closer ‘Port Of Call’ seems to waver between representing a weary point of arrival for a tired traveler, or a place of departure for someone desperate for new adventures. And those subtle, sly contradictions can be found throughout The Rip Tide, a gorgeously refined album that stands equally for the beauty of the eternal journey, as well as the ultimate appeal of actually finding what you’ve been searching for all this time.