Clem Snide – Your Favourite Music

2013-07-17 11.41.04

This isn’t, as you might have already guessed, new music. It is about me finally tracking down a vinyl copy of one of my favourite albums of all time. I haven’t listened to any new music while I’ve been away on holiday so it might be a little while before I manage to dig through my inbox and find something new and exciting for you, but for now I thought I would turn my attention to this, which dropped through my letterbox while we were away.

Clem Snide are one of my favourite bands – possibly one of the best bands in the world, if you measure it in inverse proportion to the number of people who seem to acknowledge their greatness. The are from that turn of the milennium era when bands like Eels and Grandaddy were earning widespread plaudits, and I suppose they belong in a broadly similar bracket. Where the other two went on, within certain circles at least, to achieve cult status, Clem Snide seem to remain woefully under-appreciated as far as I can tell.

I first got into Clem Snide when I heard Moment in the Sun on an Uncut covermount CD back around 2001. On the strength of that I bought what I suppose you’d have to call their ‘big pop album’ Ghost of Fashion, and I absolutely loved it.

I’d moved to Cambridge for my first ever grown-up job, at Cambridge Consultants, which included the bulk of the concept design for this little fella, but after a year and a half I was made redundant and ended up living in a tiny cottage in the depths of Wiltshire over Christmas as I tried to figure out what to do next. That included, perhaps not all that wisely, spending tons of my redundancy money on new music, and checking to see what else Clem Snide had out there was one of the first things I did.

As much as I liked Your Favourite Music at the time, it’s taken a good few years for it to slowly emerge as one of my favourite records. Eef Barzelay, the main songwriter and a fine solo artist in his own right, is one of the best lyricists I have ever heard, merging biting sarcasm and withering self-analysis with dark and empathetic humour.  He somehow dodges the impression of self-indulgent whining, and is somehow able to put himself on the same side as the listener, looking at the things he examines with a deft combination of compassion and cynicism.

The music, particularly on this record, is deeply morose. A sense of heartbroken lament pervades the album, and to enjoy it you have to embrace that sadness. There’s no use pretending this is feel-good shit, because it isn’t. It’s achingly sorrowful and it knows it, and there is no getting away from that, so either you’ll learn to love it on that basis or you won’t.

Even the cheerful tunes, like I Love the Unknown, have something broken at their core. It’s a song which has fit my life for a long, long time and one I have played a suspicious amount towards the end of many a relationship – a song about positively looking forward being juxtaposed upon an inability to embrace the current, or commit to real things, however positive.

For a fairly simple album, it’s also deceptively cleverly put together, with gentle string arrangements complementing the unhurried and slightly nasal vocal delivery, all of which results in a album with a deeply lovely sense of having lost forever something it never really had in the first place.

Vinyl is the perfect format for this record, as well. It something to take time with, and to allow to permeate every inch of space around you. No books, no chatter, just Your Favourite Music turned up loud enough to fill the room.

“Your favourite music, well it just makes you sad, but you like it, because you feel special that way.”

And finally, just to end on a classic example of Barzelay lyrics, along with “I don’t have any bad memories, only bitter regrets” by The Wave Pictures, “the root canal music of a prom night disaster” might be my favourite turn of phrase in all of pop music. From the song below:

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