Five years ago Beirut’s Zach Condon released Gulag Orkestrar, a debut that was both world-weary and precociously wise. It was an impressive feat for the 19-year-old, who recorded the album’s lush arrangements alone inside his bedroom in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Gulag Orkestrar proudly displayed its Eastern European influences, and the records that followed flaunted his passport as well: 2007′s The Flying Club Cup looked to French vocal pop, while Mexican wedding and funeral music inspired 2009′s March of the Zapotec EP.
But if Condon’s past albums were expressions of worldliness, The Rip Tide wants to shut the world out. “This is the house where I can be alone/ Be unknown now,” he sings on the title track. Where once, on songs like “Postcards from Italy” or “A Sunday Smile,” his instruments of choice — violins, horns, ukulele — were bright and gliding, choreographed like dancers rather than arranged, here they sway and drift. Only the final song “Port of Call” demonstrates the same urgency of discovery (of a new sound, new location) that his songwriting once betrayed. Despite the continental references, Condon’s melodies always felt familiar. Now they feel like they’re at their purest; if he sounds less excited, it’s likely because he’s comfortable.
He’s also never seemed as wise as he does now. The rising horns and snares of “Goshen” soundtrack his lyrical self-criticism, and the soft sarcasm of “Payne’s Bay” (“Today, I’ve been headstrong”) wraps wry humor in a mock-stately arrangement. Many of The Rip Tide‘s songs are, in typical Beirut fashion, named for places Condon is connected to, or that he’s recently explored. It takes a seasoned traveler to realize that world-weariness isn’t as appealing as it once looked from a teenager’s bedroom in Santa Fe.