YOUTH'S UNFETTERED TRAVELS, however naïvely they are executed, are of utmost importance. The furled photographs and muddled recollections of past adventures will one day snap the scoliosis from our tired spines and prompt us to set fire to our yellowing laundry lists. For Zach Condon, those early sojourns remain intact in his catalog, with albums demarcating some of the worldly obsessions indulged in his brief existence. After years of chasing culture shock down ancient trade routes, dining slowly with French chansons, and hiring interpreters to translate curious Zapotec tonemes, it appears that Beirut's wide-eyed, precocious frontman has temporarily ceased his tromping and retreated inward to take a good look at the wiring.
While this activity is often associated with some risk—in solitude, we must work with careful hands, so as not to become an endless conduit for our own charged emotions—Condon's spiritual and corporeal homecoming has successfully yielded a more native fanfare. The Rip Tide is one Beirut record that does not come with prerequisites; it does not suggest that you exchange your life savings for a thin billfold of euros to fully grasp its purpose, as the Balkanese fever dreams of 2006's Gulag Orkestar, and 2007's Francophilian The Flying Club Cup might encourage. In fact, there are no distinct locations about which to truly daydream in the stout 33 minutes of the band's third full-length; the landscapes described are largely personal, with music that feels almost intangibly matured.
For instance, the opening song, "A Candle's Fire," stands out immediately. Not because it sounds fundamentally different from other Beirut songs—it begins with the wheezing accordion, adding ukulele and a panoply of brass to frame Condon's characteristic warble. Rather, it possesses a litheness about it that screams live synthesis. It doesn't feel crowded by loop-de-loops of overdubbing, as much of the band's past material, and sure enough, The Rip Tide is the first album that has been truly constructed by the band in the studio.
Moreover, "A Candle's Fire" deals (quite exuberantly) in mortality, while Condon pleads, "Don't forget, a candle's fire/is only just a flame." This concept, the disintegration of invincibility, is something that comes with age, especially when there is a certain amount of time and space put between loved ones. And surely, Condon has had time to reflect upon this in the four years since the last true Beirut release, The Flying Club Cup. (One half of Beirut's double EP, March of the Zapotec/Holland, was beautifully recorded with a native Oaxacan funeral band, while the rest of the 2009 recording was a resurgence of Condon's first electro-pop bedroom project, Realpeople.)
Furthermore, "Santa Fe" is a bright beacon of Beirut's increasingly distinct style. It's a roaring confluence of Condon's billowy, synth-laden beginnings and the indelible brass over which he fawns: the kind that marches along past the band with greening, unpolished crevices and wise old tones. The song rightfully bears the name of Condon's hometown, for home is quite often the best place to regain clarity and purpose. This theme recurs throughout the record, particularly in the song "Vagabond," where Condon sings, "Left a bag of bones/a trail of stones/for to find my way home."
Life tends to occur very quickly, much like the album's namesake, that wily current that sweeps you right out to sea without your consent. However, it's important that you don't fight it; Zach Condon and Beirut have melded images and influences thus far, coming together to whittle a sound all their own. And thus, it's doubtful you'll be finding them in ruin anytime soon.