Beirut’s Newfound Vaudevillian Swell

Photo: Kristianna Smith

Zach Condon had to stop searching so he could find himself.

The Beirut bandleader’s third album The Rip Tide is, in many ways, his most personal. Pompeii Records, Condon’s self-run label, is releasing the record on August 30 and its first single, “Santa Fe,” is an apparent ode to his hometown. (“Sign me up, Santa Fe,” Condon sings, “and call your son.”) So The Rip Tide is a domestic affair in both instrumentation and songwriting, burnished and bittersweet with an old-American, Vaudevillian swell. Piano often takes center stage, ornamented by horns and strings and occasional digital filigree. Condon’s voice is an instrument in the most classical sense; his attention to melodic detail is profound. With all these new takes on his old life and old sounds, Beirut’s music has never been more brazen or beautiful.

Condon rose to fame in the mid-’00s as a 20-year-old nomadic wunderkind who easily pastiched Balkan, French, and Mariachi musical styles into a kind of indie-rock exotica. Early critical acclaim — boosted by association with the Arcade Fire — earned him the sort of genius-level status that presages crushing anxiety in a young musician. After a pair of albums and relatively short touring career, Condon took a break from the road and recording due to exhaustion.

Three years later, the Rip Tide sounds like both an end and a beginning. “Goshen” is the album’s stripped-bare highlight, a torch song that could’ve been torn from a Broadway songbook. The trifecta of “The Rip Tide 1,” “Vagabond,” and “The Peacock 1″ is probably the most potent triple-header you’ll hear all year, equally parts jaunty and contemplative. The last thing we saw from Condon was 2009′s March of the Zapotec/Holland EP, an alienating, short collection of songs that were half Balkan/half-Casio songs that felt like afterthoughts, or at best, late-night sketches recorded and then sold. But if this is the new, mature Beirut, fans have a lot to love. [Stream via NPR.]

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