There’s something to be said for conciseness. A big, sprawling rock album has its charms, but in a digital age where producing a double album is as easy as dropping a single, there’s an art to the all-killer-no-filler short album. If it’s done right, the small handful of songs can be just as meaningful, if not more, than a baker’s dozen of drawn-out heady ones. The Rip Tide, at an economical 33 minutes and nine songs, is easily Beirut’s shortest LP; but it is also their most satisfying, well-rounded, and exciting record.
From the opening accordion of “A Candle’s Fire”, we’re treated to something a little different from Beirut’s other albums: a major key. The melancholia that surrounded their previous work is all but banished, making way for a sound that floods the listeners’ speakers with an uncommon joy. It’s a little unfair, and a bit obvious, to call it more “accessible” music, even though that’s precisely what it is. Melodrama didn’t make Beirut’s older music less pretty, but it did limit its range. The Rip Tide reaches out for a balance of the Balkan-inspired melodies and arrangements with some very surprising pop characteristics: short, catchy tunes, upbeat rhythms, and a breezy, pervasive swagger.
“Santa Fe” multi-tasks structured percussion with Zach Condon’s timeless croon, playful horns and a sneaky organ; “Payne’s Bay” pushes ahead with a massive mixture of accordian, husky strings and more horns until the instrumental arpeggios teeter out with the blast of a lone tuba; “Port of Call” finishes things off in grand fashion with a flourish of dancing piano keys and layered, contrasting horns that end suddenly in a brass wall ala Sufjan Stevens’ best Illinoise moments. When the album does decide to go small, cuts such as “East Harlem” don’t stay down for long, eventually billowing into a gorgeous instrumental gathering before Condon sings us out. “Goshen” laments a relationship’s changes, but even that is done over tender piano and respectful brass that ends up sounding like a march in slow-motion.
What will eventually land this record on critics best-of lists is that it’s rewarding on so many different levels. The music is simply incredible, top-to-bottom there isn’t a disposible track. It’s easy enough to digest in a single setting, and quickly, but it’s also got lasting value and multiple listens hold up unquestionably well. But perhaps the album’s greatest accomplishment is that it thoroughly solidifies Beirut as more than just a novelty act; Condon proves his eastern-inspired music and songwriting can transcend the elements that brand it as “Balkan folk” to become something timeless and classic.