The first time I properly heard Beirut was live at ATP 2009. I was preoccupied at the time by my surroundings; why was I back at Butlins at the age of 21, drinking beer and listening to excellent music just seconds away from the dodgems and mini-golf of my youth? Thoroughly disorientated and more than a little freaked out, I had numerous conspiracy theories milling about in my head about how there would be no music, no bands, no fun, and how “the powers that be” were luring all these painfully trendy (I do not include myself within this bracket) music-lovers into their pricey chalets just to cull them en masse for being too edgy.
Suffice to say, on approaching the stage on which Beirut were shortly due to perform, my enthusiasm was tempered slightly by the surreal situation in which I found myself and, on reading that sentence back, probably my own mental instability.
Ah, but then they started playing. Zach Condon’s truly beautiful vocal sliding around on top of infectious beats, some wonderful brass playing and perfect harmonies, their music moved me. Things that may have sounded twee under any other circumstances seemed unusual, inventive, and perfectly suited to the music the band were making.
I was so entranced by them that I started to get physically aggressive towards the annoyingly tall couple in front of me who were essentially attached to each others’ faces and crotches throughout the show, successfully blocking my view with every new non-penetrative position they adopted. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry in my life. That has to be the sign of a great band, putting on a performance that you simply can’t bear to miss.
The Rip Tide feels like a natural progression from their last EP release, March of the Zapotec/Holland. The latter was a two-disc endeavour, where the content was very much split between South-American/Balkan/world music, and Western eletronica and pop. It aptly demonstrated the range of influences which have shaped the band’s output, and allowed their newest album, The Rip Tide, to become almost an exercise in fusing the two.
What strikes me most about this record is the maturity in Condon’s song-writing. Where in previous records his lyrics have been simple and beautiful, if occasionally difficult to decipher, these are more confident, more experimental, and more proudly showcased at the forefront of each track. The majority of the songs retain that thick, gorgeous texture which naturally comes with layering a multitude of vocal lines and instruments (both live and sampled), which we heard on previous albums. But the song Goshen, for example, is much more stripped down and honest. Softer and slower, it allows us to see what this group of musicians is capable of, and indicates to me that there is a lot more to come.
The Rip Tide is just what you’d hope for from Beirut; upbeat, emotionally engaging, experimental, accomplished – really bloody good!