"I'm Just Too Young": Beirut

Oct 4, 2011 at 7:07 am
I think I'm having my first legitimate jealous-music critic moment... Or maybe I'm just not young anymore, not young like Zach Condon...

When I graduated college five-ish years ago, I picked up a compilation album, spilled out of some Revolver magazine likely picked up at Lansing's Flat Black & Circular...

A few tracks stuck out then: one from this group called Akron/Family, another by this guy calling himself King Khan.

And then there was this rickety, radiant waltz wheezed out by an accordion, and serenaded by this beautifully haunted (as they say) or bittersweet/melancholy voice, a sad sweet trill, that turned out to be songwriter Zach Condon, a single from his then-freshly started project, Beirut.

Pardon all the clichéd music-journo phrasings from above - Beirut's music is the type (a revival of genuine "gypsy dance" adorned with rich brass and organs) that invites critics, or bloggers, to reach for the thesaurus and meet his antiquarian elegance with rivaled big-to-do verbosity.

Last month, Condon released his 3rd full length, Rip Tide, and I caught an interview on NPR, where I was unfortunate enough to learn that I'm older than this guy, that he's not even 30.

Here I was, listening to his song, "Mount Wroclai" five years ago, thinking it was from some already fairly-established indie-band of 27-year-old art students eeking their way across the country, playing Blind Pigs or Magic Bags, or wherever, and lo, I find out he is some wonder boy who was touched with the gift of composition, a penchant for eclectic sounds and instruments and a knack for balancing them into a beautiful and quite palatably indie-rock-crowd-friendly format. Worse, he's also got five other EPs out.

And I'm still here just writing about his music.

Rip Tide's tunes definitely reflect of a shift towards more hooky, poppier sensibilities, albeit still sweater-vested-up with the dulcet dazzle of pianos, trumpets and mandolins. The New Mexico-bred songwriter (now joined by a full five-member band), was labeled quite the worldly one (words like "cosmopolitan" floated around), with 09's March of the Zapotec/Holland double EP's unabashed flourish of  piquant sounds and song structures from an amalgam of European nations, proudly blowin' the noble oompah-blusters from tubas atop measured, marching drum beats...

For what it was worth, you kinda had to be in the mood for it... Not the case for Rip Tide. (Listen).

Rip Tide's charmed with wider adaptability to soundtrack your day, play it in  your car, shimmy to it while you're sweeping up your kitchen, or just let it soothe  you as you collapse on your bed by the record player at the end of a frustrating day.

The vocals are clearer, more succinct (or, if you will, cadenced with a simpler punch to fit a hooky structure), like in "Santa Fe," where the under-30-Condon seems tinged with a subtly wrenching home-sicknesses for this nation's oldest capital city and perhaps made quite weary by Beirut's whirlwind trajectory over the last five years. Hence, he submits, "I'm just too young..."

So then: put the almost distractingly eastern-Euro-feeling brass cascades of 09's "La Llorona" next to Rip Tide's "Santa Fe" -( a tune just-begging-to-be-overplayed-on-Satellite-radio, with the fanciful buoyancy of a fuzzed-up Rhodes atop a steady-jogging beat and those chorus-warming, achingly-indie-pop feeling trumpet soars,) and it almost feels like two different bands. Well, almost.

Singing about roses in East Harlem and titling a jangled-up piano-pop ditty "Vagabond" still shows he hasn't lost his poetic whimsy and flowery phrasing. It'll be interesting to see the live translation, as they're set to play the Royal Oak Music Theatre next Tuesday (Oct 11). More info.