The Rip Tide
The 2006 the debut album, ‘Gulag Orkestar’, by Beirut, showed a young New-Mexican musician experimenting with brash European instrumentation on songs like ‘Elephant Gun’ and ‘Rhineland (Heartland)’. He was aided in these experiments with the help of two members from A Hawk and a Hacksaw, who would essentially form the backbone to Beirut’s line up for that early release. The follow-up, ‘The Flying Club Cup’ in 2007, followed much in the same vein with the same impassioned crooning from lead singer, Zach Condon and an authentic Parisian vibe. The main addition on this album was the impressive string arrangements that Owen Pallett, a frequent Arcade Fire collaborator, would lend to the tracks. Needless to say this album showed a natural progression for the band, but did not offer fans an idea of how the band would progress past the difficult second album onto the eagerly anticipated third album.
Almost as soon as you press play your efforts are rewarded with the classic Beirut sound that gripped you at first listen on earlier releases. ‘A Candle’s Fire’ is a textured romp of percussion, laden with an almost indulgent amount of brass carrying the infectious melodies along. This track may come as a disappointment to those listeners who may have wanted a change from the sound of the last two albums, but these worries are put to rest by the second track ‘Santa Fe’ with its electronic sound, which may be familiar to those fans who have heard Realpeople (Zach Condon’s electronic side-project) as it offers some signs of a progression for the group. This is a welcome change of pace to most of Beirut’s discography as the synthesizer creates a more upbeat tone in juxtaposition to the anguished lyrics that pervades much of Beirut’s past work.
‘East Harlem’ is another standout track which also details a movement away from the European themes that existed within Beirut’s earlier albums. This track was one of the first tracks to be exposed alongside ‘Goshen’ to the public prior to the release of the album and perfectly encapsulates its sound with sweeping ballads and bombastic, melodious arrangements. The next track ‘Payne’s Bay’ initially rolls along on a steady beat on a snare, with the snivelling of violins bridging the introduction into the mournful verse. The simple lyrics on this track paint an ambiguity that allows the listener to take away several different concepts or meanings from the lyrical content. All that is truly realized in full is that by the end of the song, the singer is denouncing his earlier comments as ‘headstrong’. This renunciation builds in intensity as the refrain is repeated over the crash of cymbals and other bold instrumentation. However, this track as a whole seems like a simple bridging track to the titular track ‘The Rip Tide’ or possibly a part one of the two tracks, which cannot be appreciated fully without the other. ‘The Rip Tide’ is a perfect mixture of all the elements and sounds that precede it on the album, so it appears apt that it should be the title track.
Another highlight of the album comes shortly after in the form of ‘Vagabond’. At first glance, you would not be blamed for thinking the melody carried by the piano is perhaps a bit too sentimental and lowers the standards of a seemingly perfect album. Yet after repeated listening it becomes one of the most passionate, emotive tracks on the album, as the skilful singing of Zach Condon is entirely believable, undermining any notion of sentimentality that may have been perceived on first appearance.
It seems fitting, however, that ‘Port of Call’ and ‘A Candle’s Fire’ remain perhaps the most traditional of all the tracks in terms of what to expect from Beirut and they are ultimately the songs most likely to become subject to repeated listening and examination as they are the most immediate. Yet this would be neglectful of the rest of the songs on the album,which require as much attention and respect as the bookends of this third release.
The major downfall of the album is the feeling that in the end, it leaves the listener with a confused, impatient desire to know where Beirut can go from here. But, that should not detract from what is in short, only inches away from being a masterpiece. This would be so if we had not seen much of the same on Beirut’s earlier albums and grown accustomed to it or expectant of the exciting new direction in which Zach could take the band next.
‘The Rip Tide’ only hints at this new direction with ‘Santa Fe’ and the title track, yet the band seems uncommitted to act upon the inklings of that new sound as it emerges and experiment further with this sound. Perhaps we’ll see a demo in a year or two in this vein.
Posted: Tue 19 July 2011