Monday, May 16, 2011

The Feelies bring back their comforting sound

Posted By on 05.16.11 at 02:12 PM

the_feelies_here_before.jpg
In the 20 years between the Feelies' new Here Before (Bar/None) and its predecessor, Time for a Witness (A & M), the Hoboken quintet aged but otherwise barely changed. The wait would've seemed long if I'd been expecting a new record the whole time—but it didn't even seem like a possibility until the band started playing again a few years ago (in 2009 they delivered a killer show in Millennium Park). Rhythm guitarist Bill Million had moved to Florida, and was busy raising a family.

Several songs on the new record seem to address their long absence. On the opening track, "Nobody Knows," singer and lead guitarist Glenn Mercer asks, "Is it too late to start again? / Or should we just wait another ten?" But one thing the Feelies have never really done is pour details from their own everyday lives into their songs—and I think it'd be misguided to fixate on lines like this just because they seem to speak to the band's history. When the the Feelies threw in the towel back in the early 90s, they'd gotten tired of the grind of touring and felt out of step with the music industry. Mercer continued on a smaller scale with percussionist Dave Weckerman in Wake Ooloo (and later released a solo album), while drummer Stan Demeski spent years in Luna.

The Feelies' return was low-key and slow; it seems like things simply fell into place for the band to get back together. Here Before doesn't add anything new to group's singular sound, and it splits the difference between the more meditative and pastoral strummy-folk approach of The Good Earth (1986) and the more jacked-up live-sounding attack of Time for a Witness. The first time I heard the record, it all rang a bell; this sound is deeply comforting to me. While I would've loved for the band to retool their style—as they did between their brilliant 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms, and The Good Earth—I'm hardly upset that Here Before instead just picks up where they left off. I doubt it'll end up a classic, but it's almost certain to be better than most records I'll hear this year.

I hope the Feelies play Chicago again soon, but I'm pretty sure they won't be returning to the heavy touring that helped burn them out nearly two decades ago. Below you can hear "Should Be Gone" from the new record.

The Feelies, "Should Be Gone":

Today's playlist:

Papo Lucca, La Herencia (Fania)
Exploding Star Orchestra, Stars Have Shapes (Delmark)
Grass Widow, Past Time (Kill Rock Stars)
Martinho da Vila, Poeta da Cidade: Martinho Canta Noel (Biscoito Fino)
Vijay Iyer, Solo (ACT)

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