The Feelies, a New Jersey-based band that drew great critical praise for their quirky and nervous 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms, have always operated on their own time schedule. It took nearly 20 years after their last full-length release to produce their new recording, Here Before -- the band called it a "hiatus." And what's incredible is that, judging from this new album, they've been re-charged. This is their most energetic recording since Crazy Rhythms.
In the '80s, The Feelies changed gears after their first album, replacing their rhythm section -- drummer Anton Fier (who later would form a revolving-musician project, The Golden Palaminos) and bassist Keith Clayton -- with what lead singer Glenn Mercer called a "less aggressive" one: drummer Stanley Demeski, percussionist Dave Weckerman and bassist Brenda Sauter. With R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck producing, Feelies' founders, Mercer and Bill Million, confounded expectations by shifting to a more acoustic approach, adding vocals reminiscent of The Meat Puppets' Curt Kirkwood and music edging toward The Velvet Underground (especially that band's third, self-titled record). The Good Earth was a subtle but no less brilliant pop record that was ignored by listeners and writers who'd anticipated something closer to Crazy Rhythms. And after releasing two more records in the late '80s/early '90s, The Feelies began their long hibernation.
Following a 2008 reunion opening for Sonic Youth in NYC, The Feelies, former lineup intact, played a smattering of shows, mostly in the NY/NJ area, and introduced a few new songs. In 2010, Mercer and Million began writing more songs and working out arrangements for Here Before. "Is it too late to do it again? Or should we wait another 10?" asks Mercer in the breezy opening cut, "Nobody Knows."
The Feelies, in their own unique way, still rock, with numbers like the Velvet Underground-spirited "When You Know" and the exclamatory "Time Is Right." An instantly fresh, live sound emerges with guitars pushed up front. Demeski, Weckerman and Sauter also maintain a tight, solid rhythm section (Demeski was also an early member of Luna, a band that interestingly influenced some of the arrangements on Here Before).
This is a band that had little intention of "making it big," instead opting to explore pop's fringes through numerous musical projects. The Feelies were on the forefront of a modest pop explosion that emerged from New Jersey, preceding The dB's, The Bongos and Yo La Tengo, among others. Even though Here Before doesn't exactly explore new territory, there's a strong, straightforward execution in this collection of eclectic songs. It isn't just a reminder of the significance of the band; it also tells us how good a band they are -- right now.