Clem Snide
End of Love

Spin Art

ou know those bands you’ve heard of for years, but have never actually heard before? If you didn’t know any better, you might have figured Clem Snide as an aging singer-songwriter, hailing from Austin or Providence, perhaps in the sunset of a respectable career playing coffee houses and small theaters. Come to find out, Clem Snide is not a crotchety crooner, but a band started in 1991 by singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay featuring a revolving roster of bandmates including Brendan and Pete Fitzpatrick.

My long overdue introduction to Clem Snide comes with End of Love, their fifth album. First impressions don’t dispel the singer-songwriter connotation of the band’s name. The record is artfully produced, featuring a dozen or so side players, but the focus is on Barzelay’s voice. Folky guitars, brush drums, violin, and vibes tend to sink back as a shimmering canvas for his singing. Leave it to a singer on his first turn as a producer to push the vocals up in the mix.

Lacking the curmudgeonly wit of Vic Chesnutt, the rambunctiousness of Virgil Shaw, or the verve of A.C. Newman, Clem Snide nonetheless treads through those artists’ alt-country and indie rock territory, without claiming any of it as their very own. Clem Snide’s sound is creaky, broken-in, relaxed, and familiar. If Clem Snide were a character, he’d be likeable and clean cut, his geeky glasses giving him a certain charm, not unlike the title character of now-defunct TV series Ed to which the band lent their song “Moment in the Sun” as the theme.

Contemplative and comforting, this is inoffensive Americana for the brainy set. Barzelay does his darnedest to rise above trite “fire/desire” couplets in preference for more sophisticated rhymes like “apologetic/genetic.” Lines like “Did you know Isaac Newton was a virgin when he died?” and “Woke up to the sound of German hip-hop” are sung so fluidly that you hardly notice the strangeness of what he’s saying until the third or fourth listen. He makes an effort to spin an interesting yarn, singing an ode to “Tiny European Cars,” but not all of his subject matter is odd for odd’s sake. There are touches of wisdom in his words. “When we become what we’re running from” is an inevitability that resonates with anyone pushing their way into adulthood.

In contrast to the often-quirky lyrics, the music is consistently pleasant without being particularly attention grabbing. For instance, the most memorable part of the song “Jews For Jesus Blues” is the title. Occasionally a melody will stand out, like in the sing-along chorus of “Fill Me With Your Light,” and there are several nice musical moments from groaning steel guitars, spooky vibes and rollicking banjos. The only slightly irksome song is “Made For TV Movie,” a quiet folk number about a Lucille Ball biopic. When a young girl chimes in on backing “la-la” vocals, presumably the daughter of someone close to the band, it comes off as cloying rather than endearing.

Clem Snide isn’t like a paramour you obsess over, counting the minutes until you can be together again. It’s not the oddball that you appreciate for always having something different to say. It’s more like an acquaintance that may hardly cross your mind, but you’re sure glad to see them when you run into them. This album is solid and subtle, a definite grower. Their songs may not get stuck in your head in a relentless loop, but you’ll still be pleased to have made Clem Snide’s acquaintance.

Reviewed by: Krissy Teegerstrom

Reviewed on: 2005-02-22

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