Clem Snide – The Meat Of Life

Rating: ★★★★☆

Clem Snide, comprised of songwriter extraordinaire Eef Barzelay and his constantly rotating cast of characters (this time surprisingly with two constants, Brendan Fitzpatrick and Ben Martin) are back with their latest release since their early 2009 release Hungry Bird, of which Barzelay described as a “loosely-conceived, post-apocalyptic fairytale”. This release is a more cohesive topic of conversation than the latter in what is no doubt their most polished and mature release to date. Hungry Bird was a collection of older tracks unearthed after being on the shelf for a few years, thus following a brief band fallout in 2008. This resulted in Barzelay touring solo and perfecting his craft. Following last year’s stop at Mohawk, the new material ensured this was to be a release I was looking forward to for some time.

Surprisingly, Clem Snide are still flying under the radar for most, which begs the question, when will they finally get the praise they deserve? Eef’s songwriting aptitude and unique nasal howl is obviously the most prominent feature throughout the album and the instrumentation is well constructed with the addition of three fellow Nashvillians Tony Crow (Piano, Organ), Roy Agee (Trombones), and Carole Rabinowitz (Cello). Clem Snide doesn’t take any massive leaps beyond Hungry Bird or End of Love for that matter; however, the band achieves a more cohesive orchestration rather than just relying on the aforementioned stellar songwriting. The addition of supplementary instrumentation is a bonus and helps add depth to otherwise vintage Barzelay vocal epiphanies and a solid rhythm from Ben Martin on the sticks.

Barzelay’s unique view on the mundane and unobserved is refreshing and invites the listener to see things from a new perspective; often seeing humor or beauty in otherwise sad or distressing situations. This forte is nothing new from Barzelay’s songwriting resume, but it is something at which he excels. The boisterous opener, ‘Wal-Mart Parking Lot’ is a good example, exclaiming that the sunset seen from there “has never been so beautiful.”

For the most part, Meat of Life is a case-study on the subtleties, unfortunate circumstances, the wonderfully surprising elements of a loving relationship and his growing frustration with relationships in general. ‘Denver’, a beautiful and disheartening ballad about a woman bearing his child and denying him attention, is heart-wrenching and proves a strong moment for Barzelay to show off his vocal chops. The addition of simple soft piano and percussion is an exemplary track leading into the raucous ‘Forgive Me, Love.’ This segues from the previous track’s misfortune into a statement of disappointment and complete repentance for even trying.

The desperation for affection is apparent with ‘Please’, stating that “when I sing it’s you I see, them other girls ain’t real to me. It’s just sometimes I hate to be alone.” ‘Anita’ finishes off the album with a strong, endearing, yet pitiful statement; a ballad with lighthearted word-play and beautiful organ/cello interludes.

Overall, this release is simple in tone and subject, but holds sentiment and perspectives unseen anywhere in the music landscape. Meat of Life is a strong release from Clem Snide and they continue to be one of our favorite live performances, as long as the crew stays together and true to form. You can catch Clem Snide once again at the Mohawk, May 25th and you can bet your ass, we’ll be there.

Efterklang – Magic Chairs

Efterklang_Magic_Chairs_emailRating: ★★★★½

Following on the recognition in part to a dedicated fan base, a live repertoire rapidly becoming known as one of the best acts to catch in the world, and a newly inked contract with 4AD, the Copenhagen-based quartet Efterklang are set to release their 3rd studio album, Magic Chairs. Trying to improve on Parades, one of the best albums of 2007 and last year’s vastly underrated live recording, Performing Parades is a difficult feat. Luckily for the listener, Efterklang are fully committed to the challenge.

In comparison, this release is by far their most extroverted album and with their imminent reprise at SXSW 2010, after a US tour with locals Balmorhea, these indomitable souls are positioned to make big waves. On this release, they adopted a unique approach to recording, displaying their acumen for performing. Ask anyone who has seen their show and they will tell you that their skill flourishes with their unrivaled live presence. These songs were born in a live venue and after the blemishes were removed and the arrangements completed, the setting was reproduced in the studio with the help of their touring members including siblings Peter and Heather Broderick. The tracks were then mastered with the help of famed British producer Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Interpol, and Grizzly Bear). The overall aesthetic is obviously something taken very seriously as Efterklang has enlisted Hvass & Hannibal to once again produce beautiful and provocative album artwork.  

With Magic Chairs, Efterklang has bridged the gap into a more accessible realm of pop music. The first single is the relentlessly catchy “Modern Drift” which opens with a simple piano pattern soon paired by Casper Clausen’s deep and vibrating vocals before building into a sound of trademark Efterklang as we know them.  This back to basics style is quite a leap from earlier releases, especially their 2004 debut Tripper. In doing so, they may have abandoned a few fans who have grown used to the more prominent electronic influences from Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen’s soaring (though unrecognizable) lyrics and Peter Broderick’s vast string arrangements.

Efterklang seek perhaps a more profitable labor and have mostly abandoned their immense, cinematic presence and incomprehensible lyrics for a more understandable, logical approach. Songs titles “Harmonics” and “Natural Tune” are obvious indications of this endeavor. However, what they have left behind has not completely vanished and with repeated listens, the layers remain; though more subtle and carefully placed. This attention to detail is most impressively heard in the one-two punch of “Raincoats” and “Harmonics”, which is by far one of the strongest moments on the album. Here they draw obvious influences from the Dirty Projectors by means of majestic harmonization, utilizing heavy percussive elements, and the addition of subtle Radiohead-esque arrangements.

The one weak moment in the album for me is the bubbly “Scandinavian Love”, which is undeniably the most poppy track on the album and although the rifts ate catchy, it feels like a rushed product. I will withhold-complete judgment until I hear it performed live.

Other highlights include “The Soft Beating” with soaring vocals and subtle electronic influences which calmly and delicately build into a strong finish where “it all comes down” and the dreamy, thought provoking “Mirror Mirror” which seems to feed my imagination seems like the only obvious bridge between their last release, Parades. The last track on the album, “Natural Tune” contains a beautiful and supple duet with simple piano and guitar interplayed. It’s a stunning finish to one of the best albums of the year thus far and I fully expect to find it on many best of lists.

After multiple listens it’s truly a difficult process to find fault besides those mentioned above. That says much about Efterklang’s work ethic and their endless steps towards pop perfection. I reserve a half star due to the fact that these songs were instinctive live songs and fittingly their place is in a live setting.  Luckily for them, I’ll be at SXSW seeking them out with my gold half-star in hand. 

Also the whole album is streaming right now over on Sound Venue.


Download: Efterklang – Modern Drift [MP3]

FTC: Sir Douglas Quintet


From the closet this week is the San Antonio based Sir Douglas Quintet, whose albums, The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet(1966) and Mendocino (1968) were pretty much the soundtrack to my childhood.  The latter of which is still one of my favorite albums of all time. Riding on the coattails of the British invasion of the early sixties, Doug Sahm, (who passed away about 10 years ago) decided on a British sounding name, despite his obvious Texan drawl and with fellow members predominantly from Mexico.  Regardless of their lack of British ties, they still recorded an international hit 1965’s “She’s About A Mover”, and went on to influence a young Bob Dylan and later the mutual influence of the Grateful Dead, when Sahm moved his band out to San Francisco in 1966. On “At The Crossroads”, Doug Sahm’s raspy lyric, “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul” to this day still speaks to a whole generation of Texans.  A part Willie and a part Grateful Dead, SDQ deserves to be brought out and enjoyed by a more modern listening audience.


FT5: Songs Stuck In My Head

0129top5coverWe all have that feeling. You have a crucial presentation or test the next morning and you just need some damn sleep. Then it hits you. Out of nowhere, the chorus to ‘Rocky Mountain High’ (or some equally random song) decides to lodge itself deep within your subconscious.  “What the hell John Denver, I don’t even listen to your music and can’t possibly even remember the last time I hear that song!”  This kind of thing happens to me more often than I would like to admit, but here goes. The ear-bug phenomenon may be an inevitable curse to the music junkie.  I can’t go through the day without listening to some sort of music and therefore, some rhythm or theme, or even a random lyric gets stuck, leaving me with nowhere to run. The only thing to do is to listen to music as a guard against this from happening, from my own personal theme music infiltrating my deepest thoughts. And thus, the cycle begins anew.  Over the years, I find myself humming the tunes of many songs in the short-term, but a few have never left. It’s a living nightmare.  Damn you Hippocampus!  Follow the jump for full list.

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FT5: Album Covers of 2009 (So Far)

1120top5coverAt a time when we are all witnessing the CD’s imminent demise and the convenience of digital files running rampant, thankfully from an art perspective, a vinyl re-emergence is upon us. While sound quality is obviously seen as the most important reason why we are seeing audiophiles jumping back on the vinyl bandwagon, album artwork is also getting a much deserved close-up. With the vinyl album requiring more elaborate artwork packages, bands are re-thinking the overall aesthetic and producing some great work, which only enhances the overall music experience. 2009 has been a great year not only for the ears, but for the eyes as well and below are my picks for the Top 5 album covers from 2009 (so far). Honorable mentions go to Animal Collective’s cover for making me dizzy from staring at it too long and Neko Case for badass picture of the year. Obviously art is about as subjective as subjectivity can get, so give us some feedback. Who’s your number 1?
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FT5: Collaborations

0918top5coverSolid collaborations seem to come around only once in a blue moon. On the other hand a FT5 of horrible partnerships could go on for 52 weeks straight without repeat. Eminem and Elton John come to mind, Bowie and Crosby creeping me out, and We Are the World as the gold standard of awesomely bad group efforts. Apart from these, there are plenty out there that have me wishing I had never heard them. Fear not, music lovers follow the jump to read about the best collaborations that won’t make you want to hang yourself; in fact, you might enjoy them.
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5/11 Elvis Perkins @ The Parish

ep_03On a quiet Monday evening, The Parish continued its recent tradition of well-produced shows as they put on a solid bill, with ATH favorites Other Lives and Elvis Perkins joined by his new band Dearland, supplying the talent. An orchestral grab bag of instrumentation ranging from cellos to trombones, to flutes, a harmonium and organs were laid upon the stage foreshadowing an ambitious evening of unpolluted musical ability in front of a very attentive audience.  Follow the jump to continue reading our review.

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04/21 Dr. Dog Show @ The Parish

drdog_07“Paging Dr. Dog; Dr. Dog needed in the ER”. “Patients at the Parish need resuscitation.” If you missed the sold out show at the Parish late Tuesday night, your heart rate may thank you, but your feet? Not so much. The young Philly rockers pounded out a heart racing, feet stomping 1.5 hour set comprised of songs from their critically acclaimed albums ‘Fate’ and ‘We All Belong’, with a few gems from earlier releases. Follow the jump to read all about it, check out the setlist and see a handful of pics.
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4/5 Clem Snide @ Mohawk

p40404161Eef Barzelay has resurrected himself; both in the studio and onstage. After a 2 year hiatus under the moniker Clem Snide, Barzelay (joined by fellow “vaudeville hoofers” Brendan Fitzpatrick on bass and Ben Martin on the drum kit) now ooze coolness.  After nearly two decades of a constantly rotating nucleus of band members ranging in sounds from post-punk to alt-country, Snide has outwardly got it right.  Follow the jump to continue reading our Clem Snide w/ Broken West at Mohawk show review. Read more

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