Sardonic songwriter and his upstart noise band hit the Hi-Tone 

The founder and frontman for much-missed indie-rockers Clem Snide, the now Nashville-based Eef Barzelay is one of the past decade's very best songwriters, a sardonic, penetrating lyricist with a gift for deadpan laugh lines and lilting melodies.

Lose Big is Barzelay's second solo album and first since his band's official dissolution. It might be his most personal, self-directed album, something suggested by the decision to name the album after "Lose Big," a rueful, downbeat anthem about the struggle to make it as a musician and keep a relationship together. The song offers snapshots ranging from the darkly comic (a female fan buys him drinks after a show and he talks her ear off about his partner back home) to the dark.

The album leads off with "Could Be Worse," which finds the singer apologizing to a significant other for bumming out her party guests. "Please forgive me if I leave you feeling uninspired," Barzelay sings. "My only pleasure is to make that bubble burst/I can't find comfort in the fact that it could be worse."

The following "The Girls Don't Care" ropes Barzelay's (male) fans into the introspection and self-deprecation, offering a litany of romantic advice for the kind of brainy hipster guy Barzelay recognizes all too clearly: "Don't quote Five Easy Pieces/Tivo Cool Hand Luke/Don't talk about how God is dead and love is just a fluke ... the girls don't care."

This doesn't mean Barzelay has foregone fictional narrators on Lose Big. Often on these songs, there's a thin line between hushed empathy and knife-twisting critique. (Among the most memorable, "Ballad of Bitter Honey," off Barzelay's previous solo album, the fierce first-person account of a hip-hop "video ho.")

Barzelay's tone and perspective are often shifty. On "True Freedom," a spiritually oriented love paean is gradually revealed to be the musings of a kid at a church function when "youth minister Ted" interrupts the protagonist's monologue. But this comic twist subtly gives way to something potentially more sinister.

— Chris Herrington

Grade: B+

Eef Barzelay plays the Hi-Tone Café Friday, June 20th, with Oracle & the Mountain. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $10.

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