Since their formation in 2006, Beirut has done a lot of traveling, at least musically speaking. The band’s grand tour started in the Balkans with Gulag Orkestar, then moved west to France with 2007’s The Flying Club Cup, and finally ended in southwest Mexico on 2009’s March of the Zapotec EP. After spending the past five years as musical nomads, it seems Zach Condon and company might be ready to settle down. Their third LP The Rip Tide (Pompeii) doesn’t really sound like anything except Beirut, and for a band that’s been globe-trotting all over looking for their sound, that’s an impressive achievement.
“A Candle’s Fire” opens the album in true Beirut style, with a short accordion melody and powerful brass fanfare that quickly backs off to make way for Condon’s smooth, ukulele-accompanied vocals. The song’s greatest strengths—instrumental breaks as the chorus, soaring bridge as the climax—are details the band have used before, but their origins here seem related specifically to the band’s own ideas. The group also makes great use of their unconventional instrumentation on songs like the title track, which features a one-minute-plus orchestral intro before Condon begins his melancholic crooning.
The album isn’t all big-band folk and string interludes, though. “Santa Fe” is a catchy, straightforward pop love letter to Condon’s hometown that sounds like a more sophisticated iteration of the electro-pop hat the band tried on with their Realpeople-Holland EP. The upbeat “Vagabond” actually features handclaps, while “Goshen” is a slow, emotional ballad full of piano and a relatively quiet brass section. Beirut has always been adept at synthesizing their influences into great music, but until now, it was easy to figure out what they were imitating. The Rip Tide is proof that the band has plenty of their own originality to show off now that their feet are a little more firmly planted.