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The Rip Tide
Chamber rock boy-wonder returns with most polished album to date.
Ed Power, 25 Aug 2011
Channelling a teenage fascination with French chansons, mariachi marching bands and Balkan folk, Zach Condon’s first two records confirmed him as the outstanding ukulele-strumming polymath of his time. But the party-centric life of a touring musician proved too much for the delicate New Mexico youth and, in 2008, aged just 22, he cancelled a year’s worth of dates, put out a strange synth pop/ Tex-Mex mini-LP and promptly vanished from view. Now, fresh from supporting Arcade Fire in front of 60,000 in London, and with the endorsements of REM, The National and, improbably Sean Penn, ringing in his ears, Condron returns with his most succinct release yet, a record which strips away his previous world music affectations and makes a fairly straightforward plea for mainstream attention.
Opening with the horn-driven ‘A Candle’s Fire’, it’s a project of immense beauty – but one that is always at pains not to spook casual listeners. As ever, Condon’s secret weapon is astonishing voice – molasses rich and powerfully emotive, it conveys a sadness and wisdom hard to square with the singer’s fresh-facedness (to say nothing of his dude next store, off-stage persona). A sweet paean to his hometown, ‘Santa Fe’ delivers the album’s purest pop kick, Condon’s breathy delivery balanced with a trembling keyboard (the brass that kicks in at the end feels like sunshine bursting through curtains). The single ‘East Harlem’, composed when he was just 17, juxtaposes a melancholic organ and love-lorn lyrics that build a teenage crush into a Gatsby-esque epic. However, the LP’s most powerful moment is the understated ‘Goshen’, a slow-drip weepy that tiptoes around Belle And Sebastian chamber pop without ever quite taking the plunge. Like everything else on The Rip Tide, it spells ‘instant classic’ in six foot high flaming letters.