Music Reviews
Here Before

The Feelies Here Before

(Bar/None) Rating - 7/10

“Is it too late/To do it again?...”

Pretend for a moment that you were once deemed “innovative,” that your sporadic output over the last thirty years has been reintroduced to a new breed of indie rock fan raised on the Napster principle and that that you’re bringing something new into the post-alt rock, post-rock, post-post-punk, post-garage revivalist, lo-fi, chillwave, Pitchfork BNM musical climate.  Do you try and challenge this new audience, or do you simply prove that you “still got it?”

Thinking of bands that have more than made their mark, (I’m thinking of bands like Sonic Youth, Wire, R.E.M.), and the albums these bands are creating today, there’s an understanding that, at some point, simply making good albums is enough.  The Feelies have, up until now, been dormant for 20 years and their influence remains necessary to indie rock’s current make-up.  1980’s Crazy Rhythms is a Ritalin-addled and dorky rock album, its high-tension, fast-pace persistence remarkable in the same way Elvis Costello has been or The Talking Heads were.  Consider Crazy Rhythms another step in rock music’s reinvention: one of those essentials that allowed the genre to carry on after the wayward babyboomer sons exhausted it for future generations.  The Feelies covered The Beatles with their own version of Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey).  This move speaks of more than mere fandom in that takes a classic pop song, albeit one of The Beatles' more obscure, and more or less reinvents it for the post-punk climate.  This is not just a cover: It’s a statement. 

Thirty-one years after Crazy Rhythms, though, you’d think The Feelies were in a similar position, their own renowned contributions up for grabs to whatever nü, new, or “knew” wave league of bands wishes to run with the inspiration and generate its own ideals and identity into a new form. 

But, with bands these days, it does seem to mostly revolve around nostalgia.  And, with this in mind, Sonic Youth, Wire, R.E.M. and now, The Feelies, can continue making music without losing too much relevance.  And all they really do is prove that they “still got it.”  There’s no point in challenging a new audience if it doesn’t want to challenge itself, or if it’s simply satisfied enough to revive, recall and recycle.

The Feelies’ new album, Here Before, is pleasant and well done and obviously not meant to be Earth shattering.  Even in spite of the indecision suggested by the album’s opening quote, the aforementioned line above perfectly opening this album, (from the song Nobody Knows), Here Before is comfortable and warm.  Following more closely the “countrified” low key The Good Earth, members Bill Million and Glenn Mercer entertain a loose serenity.  Guitar-wise the band still amasses an interesting blend of intermingling sounds and melodies, acoustics bouncing behind some of the more intricate fretwork.  Should Be Gone exemplifies this perfectly: the band’s understanding of how to layer sounds and compliment each without drowning anything out.

But, when the band wants to make a stronger or more emotional statement, they don’t intermingle so much as they compound.  Again Today and When You Know sort of recall the Crazy Rhythms days, songs like Loveless Love or Original Love built upon a force of guitars and a solid, perpetual base.  The band doesn't necessarily recapture the heft of those Crazy Rhythms tracks, but the ideas are still there.  Even Time Is Right works as a pretty solid punk tune, more mature but foundationally sound.

Otherwise, Here Before is full of calm pop excursions, the aforementioned Nobody Knows and Should Be Gone conveying as much.  Later On and On And On are mid-tempo and tranquil, built to drift.  Way Down has a heightened tempo, guitar notes draping themselves atop each other, less peaceful but still light.  Morning Comes and Here Before provide the album its ballad/dirge, the title-track a mostly acoustic and dramatic moment, a distant whaling note cutting through the band’s dynamic.  Bluer Skies is also of this ilk, but the introduction of drums midway through the song wakes it up a little bit.

“It’s okay/It’s alright/Now it’s okay/To say, ‘good night’…”

So Far ends the album with the above declarations.  As The Feelies have been a permanent, though sporadic, fixture in popular music, the hint of waning opportunity seems an underlying consideration.  “Is it too late?...”  “We’re moving on…”  “Looking back at me…” — Here Before questions its existence as a new chapter for the band while content to see it closed, mentions of transition and introspection at the core of their story.  What you can take from it is that its protagonists are aging gracefully and that, if this is their last hurrah, The Feelies are going out strong.