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The Rip Tide Essay

Now, let me start this post review off with a disclaimer: I have not listened to this album very much. I have not bathed in it like I did for my review of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, or the Lumineers’ Cleopatra. I have not surrounded myself with it for weeks on end in order to fully understand it, because, honestly, it has been very easy to listen to other things. Yet it does not take long to see that Beirut is insanely innovative and inspired. Of all the albums I have reviewed so far, The Rip Tide takes the most risks.

This risky nature can be seen in the vocals alone. The lead vocalist, Zach Condon, often sounds strained and slightly out of tune, yet he chugs along, singing with poised gusto as he thrusts his voice into a series of melismatic fits. Simply put, there is an unpleasantness about his voice and many could find this off-putting. However, I argue that his voice is very fitting for Beirut’s music due to how it complements the unconventional instrumentals (like the wailing, out-of-tune trumpet) or because of its originality and expressiveness.

Regardless, his voice is a risk, and one that Beirut takes wholeheartedly. And personally, I respect them for that. Though this is no original thought of mine, I am sick of bands making music to please (I hate to say it, but I’m looking at you, Lumineers, but that’s for another time). I really enjoy the courage it takes to make the music that Beirut does. Not everyone likes their absurd use of trumpets and european-inspired indie folk, but who cares? They like It, they are getting better at it, and that’s enough.

While I can’t give points to Beirut on the “objectively-good-music-O-meter ” for making unpleasant sounds sometimes, I can give them praise for making music that they clearly enjoy even if no one else will. Anyways, enough of my opinion and back to the album. In a way that is easily seen, The Rip Tide is very different from the band’s previous work. It neglects, without completely abandoning, their european or balkan influences and slightly embraces a unique form of pop, especially with the hit, “Santa Fe. The album does a good, not great but good, job of hitting on a variety of themes and emotions, without the songs seeming unrelated. For example, “Goshen” and “The Peacock” invoke a feeling of reminiscence and resolute sadness, as if one looks at a photograph of a happy memory, only to realize they have not felt quite the same since that day.

However, other songs such as “East Harlem” and “A Candle’s Fire” embrace contrasting emotions of joy, energy, and even an adventurous spirit. Beirut’s signature theme of grand, anthem-like melodies is also present in “The Peacock” and “Port of Call. Now turning to specific songs, the obvious conversation starter is “Santa Fe. ” As a brief shuffle of the artist will tell, this is easily Beirut’s most fun and radio-friendly song. It is simple, yet complete and well thought-out. The keyboard beautifully accents the percussion and the vocals, being the most memorable component of the song. However, I find the lyrics to be very weak. The chorus sings, “Sign me up, Santa Fe/ and call your son/ sign me up, Santa Fe/ on the cross, Santa Fe. ” How boring is that?

This is not a huge issue, because the quality of music usually has little to do with its lyrics; it is about how the combination of sounds makes you feel. However, when I am drawn to the lyrics and they deny me the emotion that I was beginning to feel because of the music, we have a problem. Sometimes, the lyrics on this album can be so jarringly boring that it just reminds me that I am listening to a song, breaking the illusion of the musical and emotion dream that I have slipped into. Simply put, the lyrics of The Rip Tide can often be a buzzkill.

However, sometimes the Beirut’s sup-par lyrics are compensated for by Zach Condon’s deeply expressive vocals. In the second half of “East Harlem,” I am moved when he sings, “Sound is the color I know, oh…/ and the sound of your breath in the cold/ and oh, the sound will bring me home again. ” These are simple lyrics, but his emphasis on the “oh’s” makes them sublime. That particular song, by the way, is beautiful. The use of the piano and unconventional percussion is perfectly blended, and I, personally, just love that song. With the others, I will be brief, making claims without giving reasons.

Goshen” is moving, romantic, and displays unforeseen versatility in Condon’s emotional ability as a vocalist. “Payne’s Bay” is fun, but I really can’t tell what emotion they are going for with it. It’s drum beat is too complicated, and Beirut’s signature trumpets sound as diseased as ever. “A Candle’s Fire,” in my opinion, is one of the best on the album due to its sense of poise and control over every instrument in order to present itself in the most perfect form. Bravo. As for “The Peacock,” I feel like the organ-like synth in the background is unnecessary, or at least not fully developed.

Personally, I believe the song would have been better if it started out a cappella, then if the instrumental was introduced subtly as the song reaches its climax. (I am not claiming that my idea is objectively better than the song as it is, or that it is even a good idea, just that the song was not complete as it was, and some change needed to be made. ) Finally, and bluntly, “The Rip Tide” is plain boring; it is a dull, rolling, emotionally-devoid trance. All the other songs are acceptable, just not worth mentioning. On average, the songs are good, having well coordinated instrumentals and original sound.

Only here and there do they misstep, and rarely is there a mistake that I consider extreme or unforgivable. However, though they are rare, these mistakes do exist. My one one big complaint with The Rip Tide, and all of Beirut’s music is this: it lacks variety of sounds. I believe this is mostly due to their use of the same instruments in the same combinations in almost every song. There is always plucky, simple guitar picking, diseased-sounding trumpets, short piano notes, exhausted vocals, and militant drum beats; there is no diversification of instruments used.

I am not saying that it is bad for a band to use the same instruments often. After all, that’s pretty much how it works (especially in rock and roll). Bands have to find what they like to use, and that is a part of their style. My complaint with Beirut is that they do not use these instruments in any variety of combinations. All the elements are always present, always going full-force. For example, I would like to see just one song that consists of his voice and a guitar alone on the album.

The constant presence of all those elements gets tiresome, and I almost want to give my ears a rest. I think The Rip Tide would have benefitted from not just throwing every instrument in the band into every song, but considering what really needs to be in each song. (The one song on the album that does this really well is “Santa Fe. ”) Interestingly, this album is very “hit or miss” to me. In other words, it is hard for me to talk about certain components of it in general because it is either really good at something or really bad at it- there is no middle ground.

For example, if I want to talk about the lyrics in general, I can’t because half the songs (such as “Santa Fe”) have terrible lyrics and the other half have excellent lyrics (such as “East Harlem”). As for the vocals, sometimes they are outstanding (“The Peacock” and “East Harlem”), and other times they fall flat (“The Rip Tide”). Do you see my problem? Thus we must work hard to pull in an average. With that being said, I give The Rip Tide a 6 out of 10 for originality, emotional power, and cohesiveness.

What holds it back from perfection is lack of variety, random bad ideas, such as unnecessary trumpets, and a high risk of being found unpleasant by many listeners. As stated previously, I have great respect for Beirut because I have not heard anyone quite like them! They are so interesting as they mix the styles of world and indie folk music. I hope that Beirut continues to make music for many years, and I also wish that they will achieve some degree of widespread recognition as they press on. For now, however, I will continue to immerse myself in their deep, dreamy trumpet world.

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