Clem Snide, an almost twenty-year old project that can claim its roots in both New York and Nashville, was a pioneer in exploring the relationship between indie rock and country. The group has gone through a number of personnel shifts over the years, with the sole exception of songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Eef Barzelay. After the 2005 release, End of Love, Barzelay announced that the band was breaking up.
Yet it appears that Clem Snide has reformed, and the band’s upcoming album, Hungry Bird, initially completed in 2006, is finally ready for release. According to the band’s label, 429 Records, Hungry Bird was written and produced right before a period of personal and professional turmoil befell its members, and the tone of the majority of its tracks reflect the kind of humble, and even serene mood often prevalent right before a predicted storm or battle is supposed to occur.
The music of opener “Me No” switches between sounding mildly sinister and quietly resigned. Barzelay’s pleading to “untie me” by the end of the track conveys a very real desperation, and one may question whether he was aching to be “untied” from the Clem Snide project itself. This is one of the stronger songs on the album, and the melody is haunting.
“Encounter at 3AM,” which features spoken word by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright, sounds like a promising concept but is unfortunately distracting. The story Wright tells refers to an un-actualized attraction by what appears to be an older man for a teenaged girl. The music in the background is minimal, but the poet’s words themselves are somewhat creepy, as Wright describes watching this girl, in her miniskirt, mentioning her age. “The Endless Endings” follows “Encounter” and is perhaps the most dissonant piece on the album. The combination of the violent guitar sounds and jolty, desperate vocals in the chorus of “The Endless Endings” is then followed by “Our Time Will Come” — a pretty song that, in its placement after “Encounter” and “The Endless Endings” evokes the morning after a bad dream: the narrator is once again quieted and calm.
“Beard of Bees” is the most beautiful, delicate song on the album. The strumming of acoustic guitar combine with Barzelay’s calm vocals and lyrics stating “but do you know that when you’re here with me, that’s the only time that I feel free.” It is a lovely listen, a song for a mixtape that one might make for a partner.
Barzelay’s lyrics on Hungry Bird often betray a dry wit. Yet they are happily free of preciousness, and sound, dare I say it, heart-felt in their logic-random progressions and lack of hackneyed sentiment: In “Born a Man,” Barzelay ponders whether a porn star may love her work as much as “you love me.” However, taken as a whole, the music on Hungry Bird is at times lovely, but also has the tendency to become unsettling. Just when the songs are leading you into a somber mood, the band throws in a song that destroys this ambiance.