MCC - Clem Snide

This is a bit later than usual because I had two finals Monday morning and I didn't feel like doing other stuff, but the whole ordeal did get me thinking about what music helps me study. Everyone listens to smooth, atmospheric escapists like Sigur Ros or even Explosions in the Sky (I think?); but for me, studying goes best with the kind of music that'd get caught in your teeth if you didn't carry dental floss.

Your Favorite Music is an awfully presumptuous name for an album, especially one with such limited universal appeal. But I like to think that's the idea. To me, Your Favorite Music is all about autonomy. Each song's unflinching perspective sounds far too secure for the timid narrative it's sharing. Everything is so pointed, directed. And that's why I imagine it to say, "I can't write anything everyone will like, so I may as well write something one person will love." And that's the point of anyone's favorite music, really. "Favorite" does not denote cultural relevance or appeal—that's what "greatest" is for—but instead allows wiggle room for where "great" can become "best." It's all relative, and nobody is really supposed to take it all that seriously. Except for when it applies to him- or herself. And whether it's the cultural ambiguity or suburban monotony, Your Favorite Music, more often than not, applies to me.

On the eponymous track, singer Eef Barzelay shakes out, "Your favorite music / well it just makes you sad," which opens a whole pandora's box. Is your favorite music indicative of your inborn disposition, or is your inborn disposition indicative of your taste in music? If your favorite band is the National, am I allowed to assume that you are a mopey person? If you are often mopey, am I allowed to assume your favorite band is the National? I'm not going to get into this now.

Songs like "I Love the Unknown" and "Loneliness Finds Her Own Way" are the infectious pop numbers that will draw listeners to Your Favorite Music, but in that role they serve only to distract listeners from the body as a whole. Because in entirety, Your Favorite Music is a pretty intimate confessional of suburban irrelevance. Suburban neighborhoods are the result of baby boomers trying to move into a community, and had I been born 30 years earlier I could see myself drawn to the same house. But now that I've grown up in a suburban neighborhood, I feel I'm still looking for the same thing my parents were; and Clem Snide make me think I'm not alone. I'm looking for a more ideological suburbania, one that melds urban appeal and excitement with the comfort of suburban community. But for anyone, that's the same thing as a favorite. Something that entices interest while still remaining relevant to concerns of comfort (that comfort often manifested in nostalgia, at least so far as music is concerned). Something that allows you to be yourself while still pushing that entity to become more. It makes the notion of a comfort zone all the more nebulous so that it follows you toward a new, more difficult arena.

Maybe the most poignant moment on Your Favorite Music is "Messiah Complex Blues." Barzelay lays out the foundation from the start: "I wouldn't die for your sins / 'Cause what if you lose; I win." And it's that very same zero-sum perspective that drives much of my personal political position. The higher you are, the lower you're kicking someone else. And when we create community, that reality often gets muted. Communities restrain our ability to distinguish ourselves for superiority, but they also establish a bystander effect that blocks our ability to rectify inferiority problems. But the way the lyric is posed is a self-deprecating ode to coming out on bottom simply so as not to feel guilty for coming out on top.

To this day, Your Favorite Music is the only Clem Snide album I've ever listened to. I've had Ghost of Fashion on my iPod since high school, but I can never bear to click on it. Your Favorite Music is such a perfect concoction of suburban humility and disenchantment that I couldn't possibly leave it. At its base, "I Love the Unknown" is the perfect theme for suburban abandonment. Your Favorite Music's formulaic predictability and rehearsed routines offer the same securities as a boot camp, and the bus-wandering protagonist of its songs fulfills our desires for abandonment. We want to create something foreign, but with which we still feel at ease. And as much as I've already heard the story before, Clem Snide's droll perspective is the same cautiously eager retreat I leave home with. And when push comes to shove, that's what comprises my own favorite music.

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