On its fourth album, Clem Snide shows it has a Soft Spot for the other side of summer, the mellow melancholy that creeps up on you at the end of a lazy backyard barbecue or the ash-end of a beach bonfire. It's a narrow window of time when you're already nostalgic for what just happened, a walking, talking version of a Now That's What I Call Music! compilation. "Let's not swim to shore / Just float forevermore," Eef Barzelay begs on the album-opening "Forever, Now and Then," one of Soft Spot's many don't-wake-the-baby ballads built around Barzelay's soft-spoken vocals, soft-strummed guitar and Jason Glasser's eclectic landscaping. (Glasser's arsenal includes sea horns, a Hackensack organ, a sine chime, a Fisher-Price TV bell, a glockenspiel, a gothotron, a parade drum, a guitarron, a suede zither and more.) Though the disc has a release date of June 17 instead of January 17, it still longs for the season instead of celebrating it: "Summer will come with Al Green and sweetened iced tea / Summer will come and be all green with the sweetness of thee," Barzelay sings later on "All Green." But it's not necessarily summer that Barzelay and the band pine for; it's the memory of a time when summer vacation actually meant something. They're growing older and more obligated, leaving their youth behind but still peeking at it in the rearview mirror, still looking for a little "Action" (and finding it in a song full of what our Seinfeld-rerun-addled brain would call "unbridled enthusiasm"). The new sense of responsibility leads to the album's most affecting moment, "Happy Birthday," a love letter to Barzelay's young son that goes straight from his heart to Stax/Volt's soul. It's clear Barzelay will be a good dad: "And I hope that your friends are true and funny / And your girlfriends are sweet and wear tight pants." Indeed.
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