Thursday, November 12, 2009

Album Of The Week: The Feelies- Crazy Rhythms

The Feelies, you ask?? Who the hell are The Feelies?? Well, the Feelies had a hipster cache in the 80s, thanks to bands like REM and critics like Robert Christgau talking them up. But the original line up fell apart after their first album, Crazy Rhythms, and the band itself split in 1991. Then the members did nothing of consequence for over a decade. They soon became one of the many obscure acts that occasionally show up in the lists and impassioned conversations of record store clerks and music critics while being mostly forgotten by everyone else. Yet in 2008 they reunited and performed with Sonic Youth and this year their first two albums were reissued, and it's like we're all rediscovering something. Something great, even.

The Feelies, at least on Crazy Rhythms, sit at the strange crossroads between the Velvet Underground/Television era of "underground" rock bands and the "college rock" of the 80s. Their guitars had mostly clean tones, the percussion used cymbals only sparingly (I believe it was Lou Reed who said something about how "cymbals eat guitars" in the mix, so he always had Mo Tucker of the Velvets lay off), and the vocals had that distinctly David Byrne-esque nerdy/nasally quality to them while also having a healthy dollop of Lou Reed's flat delivery. Yet what makes The Feelies truly unique is the strange brand of guitar based rock they molded from these traits. I mentioned Television earlier, and while that combined with the relatively long songs on Crazy Rhythms might suggest the transcendent guitar interplay and soloing of Marquee Moon, this album is actually more minimalist and repetitive than that. I remember reading a review of this album a few years back, and they mentioned something about the 'long droning passages of guitar and drums.' Well, it's not quite as experimental as that sounds, the solos and guitar work are certainly not of the typical stadium rock, fist pumping variety.

Crazy Rhythms was a slow burn for me. Having heard most of their influences and a few of the bands they supposedly influenced, I wasn't immediately taken with The Feelies. Due to the mostly clean guitar tones and flat singing style, it initially seemed like pretty boring stuff. And I don't know if it's just the copy I have, but at a couple points on the album there's a 30 second or so long gap of silence that always make me think my iPod Touch ran out of power. Pretty annoying. But I stuck with Crazy Rhythms because I felt I must be missing something, and once I got used to how they sounded and the odd way they use guitars and drums for their songs, I began to really like it. Then I began to love it. There's an almost visionary quality to a band like The Feelies, and I don't mean to imply a religious nature. What I mean by visionary is, this isn't the sort of "sound" you randomly stumble into or lift wholesale from other bands. You can tell they had something very specific in mind, and while it might've taken them awhile to develop it and make sure they had enough variety to keep it interesting, it was worth the effort. Crazy Rhythms may sound like other bands and albums, but there's subtle and not so subtle differences in the unique way they approach songwriting and instrument playing that set them apart. Such as?? Such as the lengthy instrumental intros, outros, or interludes to songs, like on 'Loveless Love', or odd choices, like putting a percussion and bass breakdown early into the title track--which seems like a very Grateful Dead sort of move, like how they used to stick the drum solo part early into versions of 'Cryptical Envelopment/The Other One'. But then again, I've been listening to a lot of the Dead lately, so...I digress.

Even though REM cited The Feelies as a reference, no one seems to have taken anything from them except their clean guitar tones--hence the whole jangle pop thing that REM were often linked to. Which is really too bad, because there's a lot of interesting music and ideas on Crazy Rhythms. It's not the sort of beloved release that will ever topple the well known and well worn classics from much more popular bands, but those who have temporarily become bored with their collection and are looking for something unique will likely love this album just as I do.

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