View the construction of music emanating from brassy indie-pop sensation Beirut, and you will discover a sound shrouded in solitude. And, no, that's not because the band was initially the singular-minded project of trumpeter/multiinstumentalist Zach Condon.
For Beirut's fine new album, The Riptide, Condon shut himself away during writing and then sequestered the entire band — including Lexington-born horn specialist Kelly Pratt — as the recording began. But what results isn't music that sounds as if it has been locked in a closet for its full creative life. It beams and bounces with Condon's almost parlor-style singing and the warm, dramatic brass colors that emerge when Condon and Pratt lock horns.
The Riptide can be viewed almost as a coming-out celebration for a band that has designed its music very much out of the public eye.
"After our last tour, I just felt like a large chunk of my life had gone missing," said Condon, who will bring Pratt and the rest of Beirut to The Kentucky Theatre on Wednesday. "I didn't really know how I could sustain the practice and the career as well as the excitement. So I went to Mexico and recorded with a brass band. I released some old electronic stuff (under the nom de side project Realpeople). I just kept very quiet for a couple of years, knowing that I was going to eventually throw myself back into the game.
"I guess I knew this record was coming. I certainly knew how it was going to be executed and what it was going to sound like. But I also knew it was going to be intense."
Initial recording sessions for The Riptide shifted Beirut's usual working order. Instead of shutting himself off from the world while writing, he made sure the entire band was secluded once the studio work commenced.
"I approached the recording of this album very differently," Condon said. "I used to write by basically recording track after track on Pro Tools. What I would wind up with were basically these bedroom opuses. And that was great. I love that. But I wanted this album to sound more like a professional studio ordeal without all the commercial sheen or anything like that.
"So I locked myself away for three or four months, just writing things: writing, writing, writing. But I didn't record anything. Next, the band locked itself in a studio in upstate New York for two weeks. We had no contact with the outside world. We just set up the instruments, played the arrangements until we felt ready, and then tracked everything live to this old tape machine. So it was trumpet, piano, bass, drums and accordion all surrounding each other in a circle in this one room."
For Pratt, who moved from Lexington to New York in 2001, The Riptide represents as much a modification of Beirut's structural design — which grew from what essentially was a one-man-band operation spearheaded by Condon to a large-scale, multistylistic unit.
"It's been really amazing to be there as this music evolved from this big ramshackle band of nine or 10 people to a much tighter six-piece unit," Pratt said by phone last week from Mexico City. "Our sound has changed a little bit. As we've gone, I think it's become a bit bigger. It's really great to see how this has happened in such an incredible, organic way."
The resulting music on The Riptide perhaps downplays the international flair that had distinguished previous Beirut albums when accents of everything from Balkan folk music to French chanson compositions fortified the band's stylistic spectrum. On The Riptide, the brass leads the charge, but it unfolds with almost stately grace on East Harlem, which Beirut performed recently on the Late Show With David Letterman, before reaching an almost mariachi boil on Santa Fe, which it played even more recently on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
The latter is an arresting example of the dual horn leads, and the vocal harmonies, that place Condon and Pratt front and center in Beirut's sound.
"Honestly, this approach comes through in the singing, too," Pratt said. "They're both kind of the same thing. We've played and sung so much together now that I can pretty much follow Zach without looking at him. But the timing is really important. I've just got to be there, ready to match him. In that respect, we complement each other really well."
Said Condon: "Kelly is one of the most intense brass musicians I have ever encountered. He's almost intimidating because I'm so undisciplined when it comes down to it. What you hear in the record is a really good example of what he does best.
"I wanted to take a more classical approach to a lot of these brass arrangements instead of resorting to my usual sort of headstrong, beat-you-over-the-head approach of playing the same melody. So I stood back and let Kelly take over some of those songs. On songs like Payne's Bay (in which horns counter regal strings, pump organ and a brittle, waltz-like melody), you can hear him riffing and riffing away.
"That whole dueling trumpets thing that has become such a focus of our sound, ... Kelly picked right up on that like he was born with it."