4. Beirut – Sunday Smile

A Sunday smile, we wore it for a while.

Zach Condon isn’t a musician, he’s a master manipulator. While travelling in some forgotten part of Europe he discovered a tome of necromancy on triggering emotional responses in people with the power of music, then he wrote a couple of albums based upon these principles. On Sunday Smile he pushed all the varied emotional buttons at once.

Sunday Smile makes me sad. It makes me happy too. I smile while I’m crying. Each bar starts positive and ends negative, so I feel alternatively happy and sad every four beats and by the end of the song I need a cup of tea and a cookie. After much mental anguish I’ve accepted that it is OK to be messed up by music like Sigfried’s Funeral March but getting a little emotional over a song called “Sunday Smile” is just embarrassing. It is melodrama. It is  artificial; he’s just pushing my buttons. I hate him. Odi et amo.


Why am I affected when this really is just pop music with horns? I’ve been sitting here listening to Sunday Smile on repeat, digging into my memories and coming up with mere fragments. Maybe it taps into a London childhood of fun fairs and candy floss. I ran around and discovered new things, and was happy with other people. Again I find sad music triggering lost childhood memories. Maybe it is something to do with the candy floss I ate last night?

Following a great musical tradition, Zach Condon steals music from other parts of the world and mutates it to his own ends. His first album, Gulag Orkestar, is a take on Eastern European folk bands – check out this trumpet extravaganza live performance for a song from the album. (I also love the cover photo by Sergey Chilikov.) His second album, The Flying Club Cup, is inspired by French music and contains Sunday Smile.



I like his warbling voice and the rowdy chorus singing, with both the voice and the horns a little behind the beat. It sounds like a drunk singing along to a carousel.

I love Beirut’s videos. They’re filmed on location and the song is there with all the variations of live performance. How simple, and how confident is that? Sunday Smile starts with a ukulele and an acoustic guitar, then Condon sings and an accordion joins in. As the song continues more members of the band join in. You can feel the spirit here, a community of musicians who know their instruments and their roles in the song. They don’t have to cluster together for support, they can stand alone in their corner of the garden and play.


Next: 3. You Am I – Berlin Chair

Previous: 5. The Smiths – This Charming Man


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