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So far, Clem Snide's greatest claims to fame have been a song used for the theme on the NBC show Ed ("Moment in the Sun"), and their underground quasi-hit, a deadpan cover of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." But they are much more than ironic, winking indie boys. Their fifth long player, End of Love, may very well be their best and most realized project to date. Throughout their career, Clem Snide has straddled the barbed-wire fence that separates the quirky from the serious ala Weezer. It's a delicate balancing act, but one that chief songwriter Eef Barzelay easily masters. In fact, it's Barzelay's quirkiness that revels in the absolute absurdity of life and love in a universal shorthand that the Bright Eyes of the world can only dream of. He is the reigning king of the tragicomic one-liner, a post that's been vacant ever since Pavement broke up. "Made for TV Movie" examines the falsehood of the American dream exemplified by I Love Lucy: "Well I heard he used to beat her/just like a conga drum." There are times where Clem Snide come dangerously close to being twee, but they are too real, too dark and too clever to ever be merely precious. The lounge inspired "Something Beautiful" disarms with an odd, almost Motown/disco throwaway chorus of "You make me wanna...," but married to Barzeley's thoughts on destructive, obsessive love it takes on a more sinister meaning: "You make me wanna...Break.../something beautiful." Barzelay, producing here for the first time, has a deft touch and natural awareness for how to balance the delicate music with his jarring lyrics. He also knows enough to enlist the aid of solid engineers like Mark Nevers (Lambchop, Calexico) and Bryce Goggin (Pavement, the Ramones) to capture the sound of his disenchantment. Perhaps now Clem Snide can finally shake off the lazy alt-country moniker that has for so long been incorrectly attached to them. Jazzy-country-folkie-indie rock? Whatever the label, it doesn't quite fit, which more often than not is the sign of a unique artist — and that's definitely Barzelay and Co.

Track to burn: "Something Beautiful"


-Tara E. Flanagan

This conglomeration of African-American gospel and Jewish traditional music may invoke a pause, but not for long — both traditions have long suffered bondage and fights for civil rights after hard-won freedom. Recorded live in Berlin in the summer of 2004, Brother Moses Smote the Water is more a confluence (rather than fusion) of two long-running musical traditions getting reacquainted, as if they've known each other for years. The Klezmatics' Klezmer music, together with spirituals sung in Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic, fits comfortably with the soaring gospel vocals of Joshua Nelson and Kathryn Farmer in an affirmation of spiritual brotherhood between two cultures. The vocal-led tunes like "Shnirele, Perele" and the poignant acapella version of the title track are most effective, while "Walk in Jerusalem" is a jazz-gospel tune, and "Go Down Moses" and "Didn't It Rain" are straight gospel takes. All are traditional songs arranged by the Klezmatics and include an interpretation of Sam Cooke's "Oh Mary Don't You Weep." This is the Klezmatics' first live recording, and it's more of a spiritual, meditative exercise than a concert of perky Klezmer. The result is an unlikely church/synagogue gathering where the musical boundaries intertwine and transform into someplace better.

Track to burn: "Shnirele, Perele"


-Samir Shukla

When considering an album by guitarist Jeff Parker, it's tempting to get caught up in his credentials as a leader in the vibrant Chicago music scene, or the great variety of musical styles he plays, or his technique as an instrumentalist. To his credit, Parker has a way of making the listener forget all that.

The Relatives is a good example. Though it's certainly a jazz album, it seems unconcerned with genre. Divergent stylistic elements are clearly heard but don't stand out. Parker's playing rarely stands out, either, but somehow grabs the listener's attention. The music, without being showy, does exactly the same.

Instead of extended jams and solos, Parker focuses on songs, none more than seven minutes long (and half written by band mates). The music is thoughtful and intense, but the swinging rhythms and the bright tones of the electric piano and guitar often give the songs a joyful quality, like the Motown or soul-jazz sounds of the 60s.

With The Relatives, Parker should please current fans, whether they know him from Tortoise or New Horizons Ensemble. Such an interesting, accessible and fun record should gain him some new fans as well.

Track to burn: "Mannerisms"


-Brian Falk

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