Beirut: 'The Rip Tide'

Beirut

The Rip Tide (Pompeii Records)

What began as an innocent solo project for a teenage Santa Fe dropout/drifter has now swelled into a full-fledged 11-piece band. Beirut's third album, the extremely meticulous (and often achingly beautiful) The Rip Tide, clearly isn't the work of a loner with his laptop. These are gushing, romantic indie-epics, with no shortage of accordion or horn sections. No overdub is spared, with songwriter Zach Condon still exploring his fascination with world music (and, in particular, Balkan folk) but broadening his palette by flirting occasionally with more accessible pop structures.

The whole thing is beyond lovely, especially the first half, which is crammed full of career highlights, including the hypnotic "Santa Fe," which puts liquid synths over bossa nova programming and a cavalcade of horns and vocal harmonies. Single "East Harlem" makes Grizzly Bear look like Led Zeppelin—a warm piano breeze, horns fading in and out of the mix at the drop of an old-fashioned umbrella. Then there's Condon's voice: a warbly, affected strain that often unintentionally evokes a non-freak Tiny Tim but nonetheless suits his ornate arrangements.

At an hour or so, Condon's tear-streaked sunshine would lose its luster. The accordions, the horns, the unwaveringly tight song structures, the uptight enunciations—it's safe to say no one wants Condon to take himself more seriously. Here, he reins himself in to a cool 33-minute running time, before the preciousness has time to overwhelm.

The lyrics are filled with quiet revelations and half-formed thoughts, a series of gorgeous questions with no attempted answers. But his music is flush with possibilities. "I want you to know," he sings in "Santa Fe," never finishing his own sentence. The answer, as always, is hardly the point.