Zach Condon’s music to date under the Beirut moniker has been a distillation of culture. More than the images brought forth of Baltic states and French villas, the arrangements and textures evoke chansons and half-remembered folk songs as much as they/he reinvent the “Baltic-oriented folk music” that the project has become known for. After the decidedly good March of the Zapotev toyed with mild Sonoran tendencies and his outing as Realpeople, Holland, went so far as to go pre-Beirut for inspiration (check his Small-Time American Bats EP and The Joys of Losing Weight) and play with electronic-imbued songs still in the vein of Condon’s typically memorable melodic turns. Now going back to the base level instrumentation of vocals/ukulele/trumpet that he became known for, The Rip Tide may be the epitome of what Beirut have been waiting and striving for: an album that speaks volumes effortlessly, but doesn’t appear to be trying.

Let’s look at the previous two full lengths as they stand. Gulag Orkestar set the blueprint, using eastern European arrangements and melodic structures while maintaining a tie with French lilt and American nostalgia. From the first mid-fi moment, this bedroom epic lacks the sheen and separation of other efforts, but bears the sounds of a young but talented (and somewhat travel-worn) man. ‘Scenic World’ still stands out as a buoyant piece of single fodder, and ‘Mount Wroclai’ sets the pace for future songs. Meanwhile, The Flying Club Cup embraced Francophilia full on, going so far as to embody the country in song and style, the electric piano of ‘Nantes’ giving way to an accordion that straddles A Hawk and A Hacksaw and a street busker near L’Arc. Zach’s voice was stronger, more assured with its trademark omnipresent vibrato. The beefed up horn arrangements and increased focus generated by running a band filled with euphoniums and treble clef baritones. If the marvelous Take Away Show the band did for La Blogotheque is any indication, the experience was a cathartic one that left Condon happy and fulfilled but exhausted as a two year break separates both Cup and Zapotec and Zapotec and The Rip Tide. That all aside, the past’s influence on this album shines through. Horn sections ring clear and uncluttered, the drums recall the stomp of a parade once more, but they don’t command the field as before. Where Beirut once could have scored a militaristic mobilization, they now seem suited to score a trip through the Bloc in a fast car.

And that’s the problem with The Rip Tide - its stunted running time, which, at a meager 33’13”, is shorter than any previous LP and leaves the listener with a feeling of incompletion. Nine tracks also makes it the least sizeable Beirut full-length to date, but lends the disc a focus that makes up for the running time’s shortcomings. Instead, the feeling of being within a foreign land rigs throughout, from the horn blasts punctuating ‘Port of Call’ to the pseudo-drone folk of ‘The Peacock,’ each track is a story of a single experience crystallized. Lyrically, the fare is either focused on obscurations of extant people mythical or not (‘East Harlem’) or a single place’s feeling (‘Goshen’) in a manner that has been attempted by the Balkan-traversing fare of LPs past, but has failed to seem as consistently delivered as it is here. Blame it on age and the inevitable passing of time; the maturation of cells as the catalyst for progressive movement is fascinating to watch, but what is more remarkable is how rooted in the singular style he has been progenitor of The Rip Tide is. There are touches of ‘Scenic World’ (first version) on ‘Santa Fe,’ hints of ‘La Llorona’ on ‘A Candle’s Fire’ and a general nostalgia for oneself in a way that feels like a transcended form of navel gazing that actually could reach nirvana. Hyperbole aside, this may be the best and is certainly the briefest thing Beirut have managed to conjure up to date, and it all happens as a result of Zach Condon’s impeccable sense of melody and vocabulary of styles that he employs variably and masterfully.

A synthesis of influences, a step in the right direction, The Rip Tide embodies what has made Beirut such a noteworthy band and distils it into a size perfect for one-off listens and hour-long binges equally. Flaws in terms of flow and even songwriting are few and far between, ebb and flow occurring in time with one another. By this point in his career, Zach Condon should (and has) honed his songwriting to the point where his songs are digestible, memorable, and say more than a title could ever imply.