Snark Hunting: How East Coast Jazz and Klezmer Mainstay Seth Kibel Found Hope Despite it All, In a Burst of Politically Trenchant, Musically Hilarious Songwriting
“I was shellshocked,” he explains. “I had a hard time processing what had happened.” Kibel had performed jazz from almost every era. He led his own klezmer ensemble. But not long after Election Night, he found himself in a parking lot, scribbling thoughts and fragments into a sketch pad, the seeds of his first-ever songs.
They grew into Songs of Snark and Despair, an album of anthems and odes to the trials of our peculiar political era. As the songs developed, Kibel pounded out rough demo versions of them in his basement. “Despite my singing and playing, I got some positive feedback from friends,” Kibel recounts, from talented DC/Baltimore-area musicians who transform Kibel’s lyrics into everything from down-and-dirty old-school R&B (Black Betty’s smouldering rendition of “240 Years”) to reggae (Damon Foreman’s fantastic riffing on “Misplaced Priorities”).
“This whole thing caught me off guard,” Kibel muses. “Most of my writing is instrumental, not song-based. This was an unexpected project, but it was my own musical therapy, my attempt to do something constructive in the wake of an election that was very upsetting. And musically, it’s a summary of everything I’ve ever done professionally, all the styles and genres I love,” and then some.
For Kibel, as for many Americans, the election and the months that followed brought a lot of things home: their relative privilege, their political convictions and personal values, their exposure to chaos. A professional musician with multiple instruments (sax, flute, and clarinet) and multiple projects (Alexandria Kleztet, swing group the Natty Beaux, a jazz combo with many iterations), Kibel had gone through a lot, as his family had endured some health and other personal crises.
All that was over--but the world seemed poised to go to hell. Kibel was horrified and dealt with it the only way he knew how. “I make jokes at funerals,” Kibel explains. “I try to keep that tendency in check and balance the snark with the very real despair, which is dead serious for many Americans right now.”
To Kibel’s delight, they shared his perspective on unfolding events and jumped into the studio. “Everyone involved was already a friend, there was already mutual respect. I could be very free in the studio about what I was hoping to hear from them. Together, we could finagle the arrangements.”
With his collaborators, he explored novel territory, including rock (“Diversity,” powered by singer-songwriter Billy Coulter) and pop balladry (“Corner” with rising star Chris Urquiaga). “I was a bit nervous,” Kibel says. “I didn’t want musicians who don’t usually stray into political territory in their art to endanger their standing with some of their fans.” Political pasts and potential misunderstandings aside, Kibel and his DC friends dived in and created an album with enough technical oomph and musical pleasures to take it out of bumper-sticker or novelty territory, and into a sincere expression of political anguish and emotional intensity.
01 Snark & Despair
02 240 Years
04 White Guilt
05 Stalin's Revenge
06 Misplaced Priorities
09 Vlad's Bit (Hidden Track)
10 Unfriend (Audix Remix)