“The last ten years have been a rollercoaster of deep despair and amazing opportunities that somehow present themselves at the last possible second,” says Eef Barzelay. “That this record even exists, as far as I’m concerned, is a genuine miracle.”
Indeed, the road to ‘Forever Just Beyond,’ Barzelay’s stunning new album under the Clem Snide moniker, was an unlikely one, to say the least. Produced by Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers, the record is a work of exquisite beauty and profound questioning, a reckoning with faith and reality that rushes headlong into the unknown and the unknowable. The songs here grapple with hope and depression, identity and perception, God and the afterlife, all captured through Barzelay’s uniquely off-kilter lens and rendered with an intimate, understated air that suggests the tender comfort of a late-night conversation between old friends. Avett’s production is similarly warm and inviting, and the careful, spacious arrangement of gentle guitars and spare percussion carves a wide path for Barzelay’s insightful lyrics and idiosyncratic delivery. Listening to the album now, Avett and Barzelay sound like an obvious pairing, but the truth is that there was nothing obvious about the survival of Clem Snide, and the series of cosmic coincidences that led to ‘Forever Just Beyond’ remains inexplicable even to Barzelay himself.
“About ten years ago, everything just seemed to fall apart,” he explains. “The band bottomed out, I lost my house, and I had to declare bankruptcy. That started this process of ego death for me, where I realized the only way to survive would be to transcend myself and to try to find some kind of deeper, spiritual relationship with life and with being. Once I committed myself to that, miraculous things started to happen.”
Some miracles were financial (a superfan in Spain, for instance, sent Barzelay an unsolicited thank-you-for-the-music donation that covered the exact amount he desperately owed his bankruptcy lawyer); other miracles were more intangible. Roughly four or five years ago, as Barzelay struggled with how and if to carry on, a fan sent him a video of Scott Avett singing a Clem Snide song in front of a massive audience. Shortly after that, another fan sent an interview in which Avett raved about Clem Snide’s music. It seemed like a sign from the universe.
“I had just hit this low point where I realized I couldn’t do it alone anymore,” says Barzelay. “I passed along a little message and a new song I wrote to The Avett Brothers’ manager, and Scott wrote me right back to say what a fan he was.”
Avett was far from alone in his love for Clem Snide. Named for a William S. Borroughs character, the project first emerged from Boston as a three-piece in the early 1990’s and would go on to become a cult and critical favorite, picking up high profile fans from Bon Iver to Ben Folds over the course of three decades and more than a dozen albums. NPR highlighted the Israeli-born Barzelay as “the most underrated songwriter in the business today, with a sneakily firm grasp on poignancy and humor,” while Rolling Stone hailed his songwriting as “soulful and incisive,” and The New Yorker praised the music’s “soothing melodies and candid wit.”
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