My Top 20 Songs of 2011 #8: Beirut – ‘East Harlem’

Sometimes you want a track to get us off of our seats, to wake us up like a blow to the head and cut through us like an Arctic icebreaker. BBC Four’s recent documentary on Public Enemy reminded me how of thrilling it is for music to come and hit you round the head like a sledgehammer (in Public Enemy’s case, because of Flavor Flav, it was a sledgehammer disguised as a kipper). However, sometimes you just want a track to warm you up, like a hot toddy on a cold night. Beirut’s East Harlem is just such a track.

Everything about it feels instantly familiar, from the Cole Porter-esque opening lyric (“Another rose wilts in East Harlem”), to the stately sound of the horn section and the rum-pa-pum of the percussion. The European folk traditions are still being aped to gorgeous effect, but perhaps because the song has been recorded live, it feels closer to the crooning East Coast American music hall tradition. It’s rich, it’s opulent and it greets you like a hug from an old friend.

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