Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Clem Snide

  • You Were a Diamond [Tractor Beam, 1997] **
  • Your Favorite Music [Sire, 2000] B+
  • The Ghost of Fashion [SpinArt, 2001] A-
  • Moment in the Sun EP [SpinArt EP, 2002] Dud
  • Soft Spot [SpinArt, 2003] ***
  • A Beautiful EP [SpinArt EP, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • End of Love [SpinArt, 2005] A-
  • Hungry Bird [429, 2009] **
  • The Meat of Life [429, 2010] **
  • Girls Come First [Zahpwee, 2015] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

You Were a Diamond [Tractor Beam, 1997]
Deadpan country-folk, nasty when you turn your back ("Nick Drake Tape," "Chinese Baby"). **

Your Favorite Music [Sire, 2000]
Too doleful and detached to be as compassionate as he feels he should be, Eef Barzelay turns his best impulses into slow tunes with homely words that express concern without quite holding together or committing him to anything. Don't think he'll "die for your sins"--"Take it easy or you'll hurt yourself" is as far as Eef'll go. Maybe he'd cheer up if he rechristened himself John Doe. B+

The Ghost of Fashion [SpinArt, 2001]
The music is conceived songs first, an epidemic problem in current rock and roll. especially rock and roll as putative as this. And since Eef Barzelay adds the usual enigmatic tendencies to a voice worthy of an accountant in a Presbyterian choir (in Dubuque), its popular potential is limited. Nevertheless, the band now sounds both more rock and roll (faster tempos, straighter propulsion) and more chamber music (louder cello, weirder lap steel), and more is what Eef's somber tunes and noncommital wit inspired hope for last time. Metaphorical materials include ice cubes, Jewish junkies, Elvis's twin, a driving test, and a Joan Jett of Arc who burns her bridges in front of her and her steak at the Sizzler. A-

Moment in the Sun EP [SpinArt EP, 2002] Dud

Soft Spot [SpinArt, 2003]
hard to maintain that rock and roll edge when you've fallen in love with a baby ("All Green," "Action") ***

A Beautiful EP [SpinArt EP, 2003]
"Mike Kalinsky" Choice Cuts

End of Love [SpinArt, 2005]
Since all the lines make sense, and almost all the stanzas almost make sense, you keep waiting for the songs to make sense. And waiting, and waiting, through calm, memorable arrangements that are never in a hurry. But they rarely come clear, perhaps because Eef Barzalay believes it isn't just love that's ending, it's the world, and what exactly is sensible about that? As befits an Israeli in Nashville in the end times, he worries about his relationship with the Almighty, so it's no surprise that "Jews for Jesus Blues" parses fine: "Now that I'm found I miss being lost" means what it says, with attendant explanations. The next song is called "God Answers Back": "If you get everything you hope for/Then I will have to punish you." Which really isn't fair. But what can we mortals do? A-

Hungry Bird [429, 2009]
Impressionistic doomsongs that grow in beauty, as if to prove doom has an afterlife ("Pray," "With All My Heart"). **

The Meat of Life [429, 2010]
The kind of record that makes you wonder whether he's feeling sad about selected American lives, or really just his own ("Walmart Parking Lot," "Denver"). **

Girls Come First [Zahpwee, 2015]
Wise advice, unmistakable empathy, questionable promises, pained voice, minimal band ("Grace," "Wendy") **