Release Date: Aug 30, 2011
Record label: Pompeii
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Stephin Merritt’s cosmopolitan synth-pop in The Magnetic Fields initially influenced Beirut’s Zach Condon as a young musician in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After Condon’s musical travels to Eastern Europe (Gulag Orkestar), France (The Flying Club Cup) and Mexico (March of the Zapotec EP), the two artists share the distinguishing characteristic of being inimitable entities. Beirut’s self-released third LP may be paint-by-numbers, but the poly-instrumental sextet implements a winsome color scheme that is guaranteed to keep fans grinning at concerts.
Zach Condon's third outing under the Beirut moniker shakes the compass and tosses it into the dirt, kicking up a typically eclectic cloud of orchestral indie pop that allows all of his influences (Balkan, French chanson, alternative rock, and European and Mexican folk) a chance to throw down. Opening with the familiar sound of a four-chord round stacked with accordion, brass, and ukulele, “A Candle’s on Fire,” which features harmonies from fellow Brooklyn-ite Sharon Van Etten, sets the tone for what may end up being Condon's most personal and least fussy set of tunes to date, despite the habitual, ornate instrumentation. Condon spends much of Rip Tide writing in first person, and it lends an air of much needed intimacy to the always gorgeous, yet historically elusive Beirut sound.
The word ‘precocious’ has long trailed [a]Beirut[/a]’s Zach Condon. He released his debut album, [b]‘The Gulag Orkestar’[/b], at 19, inspired by discovering Balkan folk music during a period spent in Europe after quitting high school. From that album, it was clear that Condon was a singular young man, convincingly old before his time thanks to his handsome, oaky brogue, and in search of any escape from his New Mexico youth, be it via the aforementioned Balkan strummings, French chanson (second album [b]‘The Flying Club Cup’[/b]), or the Mexican verve of his last EP, [b]‘March Of The Zapotec’[/b].
Zach Condon’s Beirut is in a funny position. He’s cut his teeth on staunchly outsider Balkan folk, but he’s also one of the premier indie-Billboard crossover successes. His band spans 11 members, but he primarily composes lighthearted, three-minute pop songs. He’s got all the trappings of a critic’s darling, but his pedigree has yet to position itself in the auteur company of singular songwriters like Justin Vernon and Will Oldham.
Beirut's Zach Condon has always seemed like a songwriter lost on an eternal gap year – his recorded output has journeyed through eastern Europe (2006's Gulag Orkestar), Paris (2007's The Flying Club Cup) and Mexico (2009's March of the Zapotec EP). But unlike most gap years, the discoveries have been more satisfying than a dodgy bracelet and some rug you'll never unfurl. Condon's third full-length album is the first that doesn't come specifically geo-tagged – rather, the focus here is on his oft-underrated melodies.
A large part of Beirut's charm has always been Zach Condon's steadfast refusal to allow his band to be in any way tied down to such reductive nonsense as genres. Not that that's ever stopped anyone of course, with the Wikipedia page alone slapping on labels like 'Balkan folk', 'indie folk', 'electronica' and that ultimate vagary when simply no other label will suffice: 'world music'. Honestly, was there ever a more stupidly transparent attempt to define something that just escapes immediate definition? For what it's worth, this reviewer has always wondered why nobody ever thought to put Condon on the soundtrack to a Gabriel Garcia Marquez adaptation that was actually good.
Review Summary: Beirut awaken from their European reverie and produce a startlingly mature third LP. The longed after distraction of escapism has always fallen more certainly under film’s jurisdiction than music’s, while the latter has, broadly speaking, clung to a style of storytelling decidedly more personal - closer to parables and poetry. But when Zach Condon whisked us away four years ago with The Flying Club Cup, a veritable guided tour through cobblestone streets and Balkan gypsy settlements, it was one of the few records around genuinely trembling with that cinematic quality.
Something about Beirut’s third full-length reminds me of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”; every time I put the Rip Tide on the stereo, I half expect David Byrne’s voice to pop in, an unexpected but always welcome guest. Vocally and instrumentally, there are few direct similarities between Beirut and Talking Heads, and so I have to assume that this tenuous connection exists nowhere outside my mind. But each time I return to this record, my mind drifts back to that song, and I’m left wondering why.
Zach Condon's been wonderfully stuck in the past since 2006, when he first arrived on the scene armed with a ukulele and dreams of old Europe-- in 2011, though, he and his art suddenly seem especially out of place. In the five years since Gulag Orkestar became a surprise success, the dialog surrounding indie culture has drastically shifted away from flesh-and-blood odysseys like Condon's and toward synth textures and vague electronic sighs. (Arguably, Condon and the current crop of emotionally distanced indie stars share nostalgia for experiences not necessarily known first-hand, but that's another conversation.
Positioned at the forefront of world music-influenced indie-rock, Zach Condon's Beirut has remained relevant in the years since the band's debut album by subtly avoiding repetition. Following up with the great but dangerously similar The Flying Club Cup, Condon took his time making his next move, clearing his head with a strange electronic diversion via his Realpeople Holland side project. The Rip Tide, Beirut's third proper full-length, returns the band to a familiar sound, but moves them away from overly cribbing foreign genres, stripping some of the wide-eyed curiosity and instrumental fetishism that made the group interesting but also tritely shallow.
So much for all those debates about authenticity that followed Zach Condon around after his first full-length Beirut album, Gulag Orkestar, came out in 2006. The Francophilian Balkan folk that filled up that album sounded sweet, but some accused Condon of aping culture that wasn't his to ape, or hiding behind that culture and not giving us enough of himself. Since then, though, his music has moved (with the exception of 2009's March of the Zapotec) away from the specific cultural ties of his first record.
Beirut, led by singer/songwriter Zach Condon, is a blessing in a contemporary subculture fantasy world. We can have our cake and eat it too. “The cake” being synthpop, drum-n-bass, and other artificial electronic sounds hosted by James Blake, Washed Out or Panda Bear. Then we can enjoy the consumption of borrowed mid-20th century Eastern European pop music fused with American indie rock.
Beirut – Zach Condon's celebrated band – have sometimes felt like the Mumford & Sons it was acceptable for rock snobs to like. Condon, a precocious New Mexican multi-instrumentalist, sounds nothing like singer Marcus Mumford, of course. His velvety baritone croon is actually closer to Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, or Rufus Wainwright. Nevertheless, Condon's raggle-taggle Gypsy-oh fixation, love for brass and roustabout strumming (and propensity to call songs things like "The Vagabonds of the Old Town") point up a certain kinship.
BEIRUT play the Phoenix tonight (Thursday, August 4). See listing Rating: NNN The Rip Tide is Beirut's most accessible album to date, which is its greatest strength and greatest weakness. The fact that main man Zach Condon isn't as focused this time on cramming in references to Balkan folk music makes it feel more authentic and less contrived but at the same time a little less interesting.
It’s a cause for celebration, The Rip Tide – a commencement party for a band shedding its eccentricities and rounding down its cultural influences in favor of delightful, orchestral pop. Three cheers for Beirut, as they move out from under the cloudy, drunken Eastern Bloc influences of their former albums and into the sun of American indie. That is, if that’s what you want from this band.
When Beirut released their debut full-length Gulag Orkestar, it became something of a sleeper hit in the indie community. It was new and different, inventively twisting Balkan folk music into modern baroque pop, an impressive debut that completely earned the cult following and amount of critical acclaim it received. Gulag Orkestar was tremendously moving in unexpected ways, and it always remained a fresh, interesting listen.
Zach Condon’s life sounds like an indie film, and so does his music: artsy high school dropout from New Mexico abandons his stifling southwestern town for exotic, romantic Paris, plays in a Macedonian brass band and weaves together a debut album by age 19, thus kicking off a career of foreign-influenced and melodramatic songwriting. His music’s hallmarks—a taste for brass, a proclivity for French music, his rich and sonorous voice—give it a sense of wandering, melancholy pomp and circumstance that would make the perfect soundtrack for the next Jonathan Safran Foer book that gets made into a film starring Elijah Wood and Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk leader Eugene Hütz. Compared to the unrestrained big band sound of songs from his last LP, The Flying Club Cup, Condon’s latest full-length effort The Rip Tide maintains all the staples of Beirut-y music without its predecessor’s army of horns and strings and bells and whistles.
There was always something classically-ordained about Beirut’s music. Throughout his career Zach Condon has always been able to infiltrate melodies and harmonies with tremendous horns, strings and percussion. The former – boisterous and brash – were always the most direct; as the brass of the band Condon always ensured that his music was rooted in a current of bellowing horns.
Full of the kind of weary romanticism its maker could probably patent by now. James Skinner 2011 "I may drift a while," sings Zach Condon on Port of Call, The Rip Tide’s closing song, one of a number of references to feeling lost, alone or swept up by something not entirely fathomable that appear on Beirut’s third album. Having assimilated and channelled Eastern European folk styles into his startling 2006 debut, Gulag Orkestar, before sprinkling the sound of chanson française throughout The Flying Club Cup the following year, Condon’s most recent output as Beirut found him collaborating with a Mexican marching band on 2009’s March of the Zapotec.