The Folkier Side of Eef Barzelay/Clem Snide:
covers of Journey, Daniel Johnston, Christina Aguilera, Lou Reed & more!

Eef Barzelay’s voice is whiny and pinched, more like Daniel Johnston than anyone else on the circuit, though without the atonality and lack of rhythmic sense which so characterizes the man he often covers in concert. His on-again off-again band, Clem Snide, which he reformed in 2009 after a pair of Barzelay-only solo records, lists themselves as a kind of alt-countrified indie rock, and tends to perform in a slightly nerdy, postmodern grunge vein, resulting in a sparse deadpan sensibility reminiscent of their namesake, a character who appears in several novels by William S. Burroughs.

And though they appeared alongside other darlings of the indie set on the retro-covers Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack, and their song Moment in the Sun was chosen as the theme song for the second season of the quirky anti-sitcom Ed – a fitting match, given the series’ deep exploration of social popularity and self-esteem – they’re hardly mainstream, and generally not considered folk.

And yet. There’s something of the post-revival folk singer in Barzelay’s songwriting, and in the tenderness the Israeli-born, New Jersey-bred singer-songwriter brings to his deeply confessional, often surprisingly hopeful lyrics. Barzelay’s folk credibility is there on paper, too, after spending a few years in the NY-based Sidewalk café anti-folk scene in the mid-nineties. Poignant and hilarious in equal measure, much of his work, both with and without his Clem Snide compatriots, features an indiefolk gentleness, and the delicacy that we associate with the popfolk crowd – indeed, like the Journey cover below, a number of the covers released under the Clem Snide moniker seem to actually be just Eef himself, in the studio or on stage.

His taste in coverage, and his tendency to reinvent the songs he takes on, are legendary: the Asia and Eddie Money covers below are totally transformed; his recent six-song EP, which takes on the songs of underground alt-country couple The Transmissionary Six, is a masterpiece. And even in their louder moments, such as their thrashing, smashing, anthemic Christina Aguilera cover, there’s something of the modern festival-bound folkrock band in the way Clem Snide takes on their craft, with equal nods to Oysterband and Fairport Convention, Neil Young and R.E.M. in the beat, the bass, and the beauty.

Recently, Clem Snide announced a new EP of Journey covers after a successful visit to the AV Club – as evidence of their fan base, their kickstarter campaign brought in four times the necessary cash; as a total bonus, a couple of dozen people paid 150 each to have the band record a cover of their choice, promising more coverage by far in the coming months and years. Even more fun: on their website, the band sells both three song “personal recordings” and the opportunity to write a song for you for 100 bucks. Now that’s new media leverage at its finest, well within the folkways of the 21st century.

As always, we’ll keep our ears to the ground on your behalf for that upcoming coverage. In the meanwhile, here’s some favorites from the archives.

Category: Clem Snide, Eef Barzelay, The Folkier Side Of... 43 comments »

43 Responses to “The Folkier Side of Eef Barzelay/Clem Snide:
covers of Journey, Daniel Johnston, Christina Aguilera, Lou Reed & more!

  1. Noel

    Cool stuff! I’d heard the name Clem Snide but not known about them til now… they even make Journey sound good!

  2. Jon

    In one of the “my 3 songs” he did for me, he added some Neil Young to the end of an acoustic version of “Beautiful.” It was perfect.

  3. boyhowdy

    Woah! The intimacy of the acoustic take really adds a nice new layer to Eef’s interpretation, and the urgency of the guitar is a great fit. & the Neil Young, as you say, is a perfect coda. Thanks SO much for sharing your special song, Jon!

  4. Jon

    Glad you liked it boyhowdy. I have some more acoustic stuff of his if you’re interested…but no covers. My brother and I both had him do a 3 song ep for us. He is still offering your pick of 3 songs for $20. It’s a bargain!

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  6. Craig

    @Jon – looks like eef has stopped doing the 3 personal songs, the site says SOLD OUT. Will he be opening it up again? I would love to give it a shot


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