Under Review: The Feelies – Here Before

A few years ago, gestating jangle pioneers The Feelies began sporadically regrouping for brief concert runs. A weekend here, an outdoor festival appearance there; The Feelies were back without fully being back. As recently as last year, these rare sets featured some new compositions, suggesting that they might yet release a follow-up to 1991’s Time For A Witness. Now, almost exactly twenty years later, Here Before finds The Feelies meditating on their trademark sound, their careers and their age. For those who have followed the group since their heyday, Here Before is a friendly and familiar sounding record that could’ve been made at any point in the Hoboken group’s celebrated career.

Everything about Here Before is classic Feelies: Glenn Mercer’s remote vocals and spindly guitar leads, Bill Million’s chugging rhythm guitar, Brenda Sauter’s sturdy basslines and the dueling percussion of Dave Weckerman and Stan Demeski all contribute to the album’s comfortable sound. Mercer’s lyrics are surprisingly reflective right from the start, as he conflicts with himself in “Nobody Knows” as to whether or not anyone will even care about his band’s reemergence. “Is it too late/To do it again?/Or should we wait/Another ten?” comes across as heartbreakingly pensive, as if the album might end there should Mercer decide it’s not worth it. Luckily, that’s only the start of Here Before.

Musically, Here Before doesn’t venture far from the laid-back layering of The Feelies’ three albums with this lineup. Though they can still play like the minimalist founding lineup, the fuller, more pastoral sounds of The Good Earth and Only Life have since become the group’s signature sound. Still, there are a few ear-catching flourishes; Mercer’s guitar blares like a horn section on “Change Your Mind,” and a piano plinks on the swirling “Morning Comes.” Acoustic and electric guitars meld on the album’s title track, which further explores the surreal nature of band reunions. On “Time Is Right,” Mercer’s vocals are quite forceful, fragmenting the song’s title as a twitchy rhythm is wound tighter and tighter.

The songs on Here Before, for all their poignant self-examination, work best in each others’ company. Repeated listens aid in the digestion of the relatively short tunes (all are under five minutes). And while Here Before doesn’t at all sound like a rushed effort to capitalize on renewed interest, it doesn’t make as dramatic an impression as The Feelies’ previous albums. When you think about it, though, making an album that beguiles enough to demand repeat listens, especially after being dormant for so many years, is an incredibly respectable task that The Feelies have very casually accomplished. As a way to check in on one of the most enduring bands of the last few decades, Here Before is an enjoyable union of the past and present.

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~ by E. on May 11, 2011.

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