When Sufjan Stevens started making music, he proposed that he would devote an album to each of our great country’s fifty states. And while Michigan and Come on Feel the Illinoise are stunning and gorgeous albums, there wasn’t much of a chance (from a time-constriction point of view) for Mr. Stevens to complete his task—unless he grouped states together.
On the other hand, Zach Condon—the heartthrob prodigy behind Santa Fe-based Beirut presented an equally compelling yet much more doable task. Since his breathtaking debut, Gulag Orkestar, Condon’s musical vision has been to fuse world music with indie sensibility and plenty of lush, layered sounds—horns, percussion, strings—one country or world region at a time. Gulag was inspired by the music of the Balkans; The Flying Club Cup nodded toward France; the double EP March of the Zapotec/Holland simultaneously tackled Mexican music and the Netherlands.
On his third full length album, the one thing that ties each of Condon's songs together is that they all give you the unshakable feeling that you are at a beach. It all starts with the lyrics in opener “A Candle’s Fire” that mention the allure of campfires. Indeed, the lyrics found on The Rip Tide are the strongest and clearest that Condon’s ever written. This is especially striking in light of the fact that Condon has insisted time and time again that his lyrics are more a mode of vocal delivery than anything else—he used to mumble because he wanted his voice to be heard as an instrument rather than a way to deliver poetry.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this record is Condon’s vocals. They’re clearer and more precise, and they really set the mood for the entire album. As always, Condon’s songwriting is simply superb; “East Harlem” and “Port of Call” are two of the strongest things he’s ever released (although “East Harlem” has been kicking around for a while, creeping to the surface for air every so often at concerts). All in all, The Rip Tide is an unquestionably wonderful album, and irritatingly listenable. It’s also much more accessible than his previous albums, because he leaves the baroque-elements to the music and adopts a more normative approach to singing. Yet, it still sounds like Beirut.
That being said, Condon’s musical evolution on The Rip Tide is both swift and natural; he sounds as he always has—at ease and in control, yet the musical progression that he’s made here is vast. Condon is no longer only experimenting with what makes a country’s folk music interesting—he’s actually emulating nature. The Rip Tide is the perfect way to encompass the ocean. The Rip Tide—therefore, isn’t simply the reflection of a certain ethnic group’s music: it harmoniously blends together all of the wonderful elements which contribute to the unparalleled happiness we gain on those weekends at the coast. And for a person who misses the Pacific Ocean like a junkie misses their needle, it’s a much needed source of comfort and joy.
The Rip Tide is now available for purchase digitally on itunes. You can stream the entire thing HERE. It hits your local record store on August 30th.