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. With that propulsive buzz (and the fact that the third full-length in a career forms something of an arc) you might expect The Rip Tide to be a towering statement, but that isn’t the case. Not only is it the shortest item in the Beirut catalog, it’s also the breeziest; sounding confidently assure in its identity—which unsurprisingly makes it Condon’s most immediately enjoyable record to date.
It’s not to say that breezy is out of his wheelhouse, the man’s first talking point “Postcards From Italy” practically defines evanescence—but taken as a whole The Rip Tide just demands less. It doesn’t have the same weighty, funereal gloom of his earlier LPs, the textures are less regal, less autumnal—the sound isn’t energized per say, but it’s certainly more optimistic. The honey-dipped “Santa Fe” is peacefully located, with Condon singing winsomely about his hometown. “East Harlem” has its head cranked towards a warm, rosy past, his horns echoing the same lush nostalgia. The quieter stuff, like “Goshen” and “The Peacock,” finds a nice home with the rest of the easiness. In other world they might be drenched in sorrow, but here they’re nice and introspective, like strategic resting points to make the glide that much more beatific.
Before you know it, The Rip Tide has passed by, leaving a faint residue but not much room for discourse. It’s not the predictable place for something as rigidly arty as Beirut to live, but it suits the band quite well. Condon’s gradual evolution out of his diffuseness could’ve has remained remarkably idiosyncratic; Eastern European texture and indie-folk don’t necessarily make for great bedfellows, but here the match seems strikingly natural, and that’s probably a tribute to Condon’s deftness.
I’m sure a few will be disappointed that the narrative for The Rip Tide is as straightforward as it is. Given the sizable gap between 2007’s The Flying Club Cup, and the divergent (if a little directionless) clearinghouse EP March of the Zapotec, the awaited follow-up was conceptualized as something ripe for music-geek debate. The Rip Tide isn’t that, and we should be glad, the jaunty nine-song set sounds effortless enough to be a trend. History might not look at it like an OK Computer, but it makes a mighty fine Hail to the Thief.