Positioned at the forefront of world music-influenced indie-rock, Zach Condon’s Beirut has remained relevant in the years since the band’s debut album by subtly avoiding repetition. Following up with the great but dangerously similar The Flying Club Cup, Condon took his time making his next move, clearing his head with a strange electronic diversion via his Realpeople Holland side project. The Rip Tide, Beirut’s third proper full-length, returns the band to a familiar sound, but moves them away from overly cribbing foreign genres, stripping some of the wide-eyed curiosity and instrumental fetishism that made the group interesting but also tritely shallow.
Condon is right to recognize these qualities as a liability in an era where an expansive focus on globalism has made the traditional styles of exotic countries seem like fruit ripe for the picking. As acts like Fool’s Gold, Vampire Weekend, and countless others snatch up African polyrhythms like flea-market trinkets, the result of such pilfering has started to sound, even aside from the ethical ramifications, resoundingly stale.
Luckily, Beirut has always been about more than stylistic inspiration, and the process of winnowing the band’s sound down to a simper palette of horns, guitar, piano, and voice, without any defined regional influence, allows Condon’s songwriting to speak for itself. The songs are often still a little too cute, too twee and self-satisfied, but they’re just as catchy without the burden of self-reflexive exoticism. Tracks like “East Harlem” and “Santa Fe” still treat locations as scrapbook opportunities for sepia-toned nostalgia, but they’re nevertheless warm and engaging. Consistently full of this kind of material, The Rip Tide, neatly arrayed at nine tracks over 33 minutes, is refreshingly free from excess or fluff.
The binding force throughout remains Condon’s voice, an antique, idiosyncratic instrument that can be limiting but also wholly distinctive. At times it cuts through the emotion of the songs, lessening their impact via its distancing weirdness. But for the most part it serves the songs well, and The Rip Tide consequently sounds like a marked step in the right direction, a bid for freedom from influences and trends.