CRAZY RHYTHMS: The newly dropped reissues of the Feelies' first two albums demonstrate the naturally lasting vitality of their music.
I tried hard to be born earlier, but it didn't work. As a result, I've had to contend with an irritatingly positioned cultural blind spot (roughly 1976–1986) that currently occupies all that open space once filled with childhood memories. Everybody's got one — mine just happens to be perfectly lined up with prime Feelies time. By the end of that ignorant/blissful stretch, my Nintendo fever was just starting to break, and I'd taken my first few steps down the long path of alienation that would lead to boxes full of mixtapes crammed with random songs from random bands — none of which would (or could) have existed without the Feelies.
So I was told, and so I believed, and so I eventually discovered for myself — but first and foremost: I was told. In fact, the Feelies may have been the first countercultural canonical fiat that I casually rejected. My infrequent formative encounters with them were usually in print: always tucked into the critical algebra of some review, always conjured in service of describing some other band, seldom actually heard. Apart from unannounced spots on college playlists now and then, their songs (which languished out of print for years, until this fall's Bar/None reissues of 1980's Crazy Rhythms and 1986's The Good Earth emerged) were simply not around. And since every band worth hearing at the time was said to have been created in the Feelies' likeness, it hardly seemed to matter. Oh, the folly of youth!
Despite decades of critical assurances from people like me, Feelies founding father Glenn Mercer doesn't really see how his band dispatched indie rock's legions in so many different directions. If anything, he tells me over the phone, he tends to hear the differences more than the similarities. "Of course," he considers, "I'm seeing the songs at a very close range. They might be too personal."
Mercer's range has been especially close over the past few years, as a trickle of licensing requests has steadily gathered into a full-on stream of interest (thanks to tastemakery names like Rick Moody and Noah Baumbach invoking the band's lasting cool). The process of assembling the Bar/None reissues — which cover only those first two albums — has taken several years. "We wanted to make sure we did it right," Mercer says.
But, as usual with the Feelies, patience pays. The recordings are enlivened with a bit more snap and depth, their most influential facets newly gleaming: the criss-crossing stairways of guitar in "Tomorrow Today" presaging math-rock antics by more than a decade; the whole of Yo La Tengo cradled in the three minutes of "Slow Down"; "Loveless Love" connecting R.E.M., the Pixies, and all variants thereof with a single scintillating vector. Even the bonus tracks rule. A freshly recorded live version of "Slipping (Into Something)" darts from frenzied to frayed to positively apeshit in six minutes. You can feel the love in the room.
Mercer credits the reissues with fanning enough flames to set off the recent handful of Feelies reunion dates (which include this Sunday's appearance at the Wilbur with Sonic Youth.) And with nary a note of coyness, and with songwriter Bill Million at long last on board, he freely admits the goal here is to make a new record. "We don't want this to be all nostalgia."