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Clem Snide

The Ghost of Fashion


Ethereal blues

WWhen you play such low key minimalist acoustic country blues, you had better possess riveting lyrics to capture the listener’s attention or else you are toast. In the case of NYC-based Clem Snide, an “alt-country” combo that began life as a punk rock trio a decade ago in Boston, the saving grace lies in the words of singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay.

Barzelay has a way with words—a penchant for stringing together outlandish albeit clever phrases you do not often encounter in a song. But he makes his impact felt nonetheless. A good example arrives early on with “Long Lost Twin”:

Clean up the mess that Eve and Adam got us in
Tonight I feel like Elvis longing for his long lost twin
Open the gates of heaven and let me in
Tonight I feel like Elvis longing for his long lost twin
Sometimes I wish I was never born’

With this couplet, Barzelay conveys loss and regret and ties it in remarkably with the Fall. Milton for the angst-ridden cowpunk set? Perhaps.

In “Don’t Be Afraid of Your Anger”, Barzelay uses poignant imagery to describe the inherent violence in relationships, and particularly the violence done by that most dangerous of weapons, the tongue:

Don’t be afraid of the language
I know you don’t mean what you said
Well your tongue can get sharp
But it’s soft in my mouth
And there’s towel and ice we could use

Barzelay indicates control in these difficulties and makes a stand to tough it out, whatever the circumstance. This commitment is communicated with a dash of black humor:

So don’t me afraid of your anger
I’ll eat it with mustard and wine
And lick the blood off your lip
And the bruise on you hip
When this pillow fight gets out of hand

“The Curse of Great Beauty” finds Barzelay in a particularly sarcastic, caustic mood as he chastises his partner in self-defence and with a hidden agenda—to consummate his lust:

I’m sure it’s hard being you
So put down that book it’s too serious
I’ll undress you as I make a joke
But please try not to laugh
As I swim in your flesh
Just hold your breath ‘til I finish

Impossible to ignore, Barzelay’s lyrics manage to rise above the formulaic angst-ridden whining that bogs down so many of the modern-day singer-songwriters. Barzelay comes across like an accomplished poet compared to so many of his peers.

Like fellow troubled troubadours Will Oldham, Mark Eitzel and Mark Kozelek, Barzelay uses words to express personal perspectives. The lyrical concepts transcend their sonic envelopes; they don’t merely mirror them. Clem Snide is not much more than Barzelay’s vehicle, the songs tending to be overwhelmed by Barzelay’s unique vision. That is probably the whole point of the exercise and, given Barzelay’s gifts, should not be any cause for concern.

Tagged as: clem snide
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