The Rip Tide

My Grandfather often referred to “the old country” when he spoke of music. As a young man he played cornet in a brass band comprised of fellow immigrants. The songs they played transported a piece of their middle European origins to their adopted homes. Following generations assimilated into the great melting pot, pulling its music into the furnace. Every once in a while a band emerges that reaches back to touch those roots. Devotchka incorporates ethnic sounds into their alternative songs. So have Zach Condon and his band Beirut.

Condon musical output has traveled along Balkan trails, gypsy pathways, the avenues of Paris, and through dusty Mexican neighborhoods. After recording his first album in his New Mexico home he and his band mates toured Poland, Turkey, and Russia, excursions that enhanced Beirut’s connection to a menagerie of instruments that range from brass to accordion. Keyboards include Wurlitzer, harpsichord, and Farfisa. Within the realm of brass are French horn, euphonium, trombone, trumpet, tuba, and saxophone. Throw in violin, cello, and glockenspiel and you’ve got the general gist of the band. This whirlwind of sound finds its core in the beautiful melodies spun out by Condon.

The Rip Tide reigns in the forays into global sounds, at least in comparison with Beirut’s earlier releases. “A Candle’s Fire” and “Sante Fe” are built on standard pop structures but are decorated with brass, accordion, and Wurlitzer and farfisa organ. “East Harlem” is a sweet love song that slows down the pace, the tempo kept by a ukulele and piano with trumpet interludes. Condon’s earlier work often felt crowded, with horns piling up in great measure while other instruments rushed toward the spinning core. “Goshen” a ballad that begins quietly with cello, piano, and vocals, builds slowly allowing trumpet to ebb and flow. The song is an example of Condon’s growing understanding that less can offer more returns. Again, “Payne’s Bay” is arranged in such a manner that the listener can appreciate more the coming and going of each instrument.

What you will notice about Beirut is the lack of guitar. Perhaps that is because Condon shattered his wrist as a boy and cannot play guitar for more than a few minutes without pain. He compensates by playing keyboards, trumpet, and ukulele. He is also the voice of the band although he is occasionally backed by other band members and guest vocalist Sharon Van Etten. Condon’s singing style is subtle and precise, manner. He shuns dramatic antics relying on the power of the lyrics to carry the verse. Condon is only 25 years old and yet his musical vision surpasses most musicians with more experience. The Rip Tide is proof that he is growing beyond his prodigy status.

Rosemary Welsch (afternoon host)