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.