The best bands that rode the wave of the alt-country No Depression movement in the late '90s were never fully steeped in the country genre. The Old 97's went pop by the time they released Fight Songs. Wilco was full of dreamy folk-pop that showed a dark side on Summerteeth.
Arguably, Clem Snide was as much a rock band as anything else when the group debuted in 1998. But songs like "Nick Drake Tape" used splashes of pedal steel. And with so many tunes grounded in acoustic guitar, the alt-country moniker stuck.
On Hungry Bird, singer and songwriter Eef Barzelay shifts between dark and edgy rock songs and bright and delicate ballads. The album shows flashes of folk, but it's not rootsy in obvious ways.
Barzelay still masters suspended moods that fit his unsure and detached voice. "Me No" is tense and psychedelic. "Born a Man" features bright piano and sounds like morning. "Pray" is an ethereal meditation that warms to a rousing chorus. Then it breaks back down into a sullen tempo.
There's less irony here, not the kind that permeated Snide classics like "Your Favorite Music." Barzelay's latest feels curiously spiritual, and it's as satisfying as ever.