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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
After a rash of solo albums, film scores, and an infamous incident doing the theme to a noted TV show, Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay is back, his band in tow, and unafraid to face his future.

It would be easy to say that Eef Barzelay has brokered a Faustian bargain for himself—if only he got something out of it in the end.


Barzelay—the frontman for lauded indie-country act Clem Snide—has a cool demeanor, and in talking to him, it is clear that he has given his soul to what he does. Yet outside of some acclaimed independent records (both leading Clem Snide and as a solo artist) and some notable film scores, it seems that he doesn’t have much to show for it. However, Barzelay and his band are not discouraged in the least.  With their name culled from a character from one of America’s foremost outcast artist—William S. Burroughs—Clem Snide is a bit character.


“I am embarrassed to have that reference in the name,” Barzelay says shortly after we start chatting.  He is at home in Nashville with a five month old child on his shoulder, a new record with his old band just out, and a tour looming in the very near future. “I always make these big decisions that I don’t think about. We had a tape [of Burroughs] and if you listen to him read his stuff is hysterical.  It opened with ‘my name’s Clem Snide and I’m a private asshole,’ and I thought that sounds like me.”


When you start to dissect the long and winding road that is the Clem Snide biography, it all traces back to Barzelay’s voice.  It isn’t your traditional singing voice.  It has a whine pitch that is more about emotional exhaustion than it is weakness.  It’s equal parts River Cuomo’s sarcasm, Daniel Johnston’s sadness and Mark Oliver Everett’s attention to detail.  For a time, it was also the most recognizable voice in a small indie circle defined by recognizable voices.  Clem Snide was able to glide between genres like pop and alt-county with relative ease. It was the kind of voice that you would hear through the doors of dormitories and on the far end of music dials.  Truly, it had the potential to be the voice of a decade.


Snide got what they thought was a great break when they were picked to do the theme song for television show Ed in its second season.  Unfortunately, the fan base from Ed reacted poorly to the replacement of the original Foo Fighters version of the song.  “I was reading this Stuckeyville.org fucking message board or whatever,” says Barzelay, “and there were all these people with letters saying ‘what is this song, it’s like someone torturing a Yak.’  Just vitriolic shit. Man, they love[d] that Foo Fighters song. No one was too pleased with the way [our song] turned out.”  It appeared once again that fame would slip through Clem Snide’s fingers.


Then Clem Snide abruptly called in quits. “Ultimately, it was a falling out with me and the guitar player and that was in conjunction with a really nasty break up with our manager.  For me to announce that it was broken up was probably an emotional reaction.  Technically I started Clem Snide in 1991 and we didn’t make a record until 1997.”  After a few notable releases, the dynamic in Clem Snide dissolved; losing a label and a booking agent in a short time span and all that was left was a lot of ideas for songs and that remarkable voice. Eef Barzelay was not unaware that his voice alone was worth something.  So Clem Snide called it quits with a catalogue that included notable albums like You Were a Diamond,Your Favorite Music, Soft Spot,End of Love, Ghost of Fashion, and the successful Beautiful EP (featuring a cover of the Christina Aguilera song of the same name). It was a respectable discography and could have been the last of the band.  Fortunately, Eef Barzelay was not finished.


Barzelay knew that he had more to write, so he relocated to Nashville and embarked on a solo career. Left in the vaults, however, was an unfinished record that Barzelay had strong feelings about.  As he mulled this, a unique opportunity was presented to Barzelay: he was asked to score a small film called Rocket Science. It was a small budget quirky film about a boy with a stutter who attempts to overcome the problem by joining the debate team at his New Jersey.  Though Barzelay knocked the project out of the park, once again his timing was off.  Barzelay notes that despite the momentum the film had, “We opened the same weekend and Superbad and that sorta killed us at the box office.”  Nonetheless, Rocket Science was a critical darling and has become a cult favorite.  In addition to being an unforgettable voice of the new generation he was now also a film scorer. With the time left over in the sessions for Rocket Science, Barzelay dug out that project he had been working on. The difference was, this wasn’t going to be a solo record.  This was, definitively, a Clem Snide record.  Water had gone under the proverbial bridge and it was time to put the band back together.  So 2009 sees the release of a new Clem Snide record, made on a movie’s dime and featuring front and forward that voice.


Hungry Bird sounds like an AC Newman record peppered with abstract lyrics like “we have their bones to comb our hair”, Barzelay’s voice appearing to be beamed in from some outer planet.  The title track is more poetry wordplay than traditional rock number. In fact, much of the record has the feel of lyrics detached from the relentlessly atmospheric.  Clem Snide has expanded into Wilco-sized level of musical experimentation but without the noted histrionics. The blend of the two side by side feel inspired.


“I make music sort of from the inside out which is different than most indie music is made today. It’s about my voice and my words and if you listen to it and try to compare to My Morning Jacket or a Shins record, it’s great. There is a sophistication to it that is great.  We are not that. Clem Snide is supposed to be confrontational and that’s the punk part that is missing in indie music right now.”


It is hard to see where the future of Clem Snide may lead. The band seems to agree that touring places a burden on them. Barzelay is now the father of two young children and the notion of months away from his family sits uneasily with him.  Nonetheless, the band have hit the road to promote Hungry Bird, playing just like they did during their early days.  The film scoring business seems to be picking up for Barzelay, and—as such—he is afforded more choices than to load into a van and travel thousands of miles to remind fans what the voice of a movement sounded like. On the other hand, Rivers Cuomo and Eddie Vedder have found ways to do it and perhaps Clem Snide can too.  If Hungry Bird is any indication, it would be worth all of our times if the men of Clem Snide do just that.  Maybe Barzelay did make a Faustian bargain: he has his family, his fans, and—of course—he has that voice. 


And Ed has been cancelled.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
by PopMatters Staff
Former drug store clerk Elliott Yamin scored high on the American Idol charts. His first album, Elliott Yamin (Hickory, March 2007) went gold in the US and Japan, and was the highest independent debut for a new artist on the Billboard charts. His sophomore album, Fight for Love, released this month.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Tuesdays With Morrie.  It’s a great story about finding yourself and what really matters in life.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Don’t really know any fictional characters, or at least followed any. So I don’t really know what each one does or stands for.  Never really got into any animated shows or cartoons.


3. The greatest album, ever?
Donny Hathaway’s i>These Song For You Live!’. Stevie Wonders’ Signed, Sealed and Delivered and Marvin Gayes’ I Want You album are tied for a close second place!


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Saturday, May 23, 2009
Pete Townshend is selling (his soul), but who's buying? Not I.

There is a reason the Beatles are considered the greatest band ever. It’s simple, really: they are the greatest band ever. After them, it’s a fair fight for second place, and fans of the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the Kinks can duke it out for eternity. (And that’s just the British bands.) It would not be terribly enjoyable, or edifying, to argue about which band warrants consideration as runners-up, but since the Stones tend to be the ones most often considered just under the Fab Four’s thumbs, how about the Who? Who knows what might have happened if Keith Moon had not kicked off for that great pub in the sky? (Based on what these other bands did, or did not do, after 1980, it’s safe to propose nothing terribly earth shattering was portended.)


But the output from their first decade goes toe-to-toe with any of these other bands’ best work. And if you want to go deep, what tri-fecta can possibly touch Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia? In terms of albums released in a row, that is a tough list to top. The Stones, of course, came close with Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street (and in terms of the immediate precursors, I would personally rank The Who Sell Out as every bit as good, if not slightly better, than the somewhat overrated Beggar’s Banquet). What else do you got? I wouldn’t fight to the death arguing that Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper aren’t the most important (if least perfect) consecutive albums to drop in rock history. Of course there is also the entirety of Hendrix’s studio output (while he lived, that is; the good, the bad and the ugly that still spills out of the vaults is a mostly positive mixed blessing), Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland. Fans of the underdogs will get plenty of mileage endorsing The Kinks’ Face to Face,  Something Else by the Kinks and The Village Green Preservation Society.


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Thursday, May 21, 2009
by Robin Cook

Last autumn, this vidblogger caught Ha Ha Tonka’s stunning show at a Bloodshot Records showcase in Brooklyn. They didn’t disappoint in Austin, either.  Here, guitarist Brett Anderson talks a little about the band’s history. Ha Ha Tonka’s new album, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South is out now.



Tagged as: ha ha tonka, sxsw
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The way that the films Notorious, 8 Mile, Walk The Line, and Ray lead up to scenes of performances shows the remarkable and subtle endurance of troubling racial stereotypes and ideals.

I’ve done a bad bad thing
Cut my brother in half

—Little Dewey Cox in Walk Hard


The new millenium has been kind to biopics of musicians. We have, most of us, seen the blockbusters, including Walk the Line, Ray, and Notorious, and these have been accompanied by more minor films like Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Cadillac Records, and Jenna Maroney’s unforgettable Sing Them Blues, White Girl: The Jackie Jomp-Jomp Story. Some of the recurrent themes of these films, such as drug abuse, became so predictable that they were easily satirized in Walk Hard.


But in thinking about how these films diverge, after finally reaching the (somewhat confused) end of Notorious, I realized that in both the earlier film 8 Mile, the semi-fictional story of Eminem’s life, and in Walk the Line, the white performer comes to a moment of emotional overload that threatens his very ability to get on stage. In Cash’s case, this is because he is re-living his brother’s death; in Eminem’s case, it is because he has to face a hostile, mostly African-American crowd as a white rapper.


By contrast, in their respective films, neither Ray Charles nor Biggie experience this kind of stage fright. Instead, particularly in Notorious, there is an utterly natural transition from the private work of practicing and writing to the public arena of performance. This is even the case despite Ray’s having undergone, like Cash, the death of a brother while very young.


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