Some bands evaporate never to be heard from again, others sink into the groundwater, nurturing what comes later. The Feelies fall into the latter camp. The jangly fuzz and off-kilter beats the New Jersey group pioneered starting with 1980’s Crazy Rhythms long ago became part of many aspiring bands’ education, starting with a young R.E.M. Its four-album catalog has fallen in and out of print over the years, often making it easier to hear the Feelies’ influence than to hear the band itself. That trend happily gets reversed with the re-release of Crazy Rhythms and its long-in-the-making 1986 follow-up The Good Earth.
From the beginning, The Feelies learned much from another groundwater band, The Velvet Underground, coupling that group’s knowing simplicity with lessons learned from CBGB favorites like Television and Talking Heads. But nobody except the band, led by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, can claim the resulting sound. Crazy Rhythms lives up to its title, pairing the group’s signature skitter-to-drone guitar sound with neurotic energy drafted off the moment punk started to give way to new wave. Short tracks like “Fa Cé La” and “Moscow Nights” have a pop punch while longer songs like “Forces At Work” and the title track find different sorts of thrills from the unexpected way their uneasy jangles and insistent beats weave together in an ever tighter bundle of sound.
Co-produced by fan Peter Buck, The Good Earth finds Mercer and Million leading a different Feelies line-up. Seemingly taking its cues from the album’s pastoral cover, the band’s musicianship remains every bit as focused as on Rhythms but the atmosphere sounds much more relaxed. Where unease powered the Feelies’ debut—that it contains a track called “The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness” is no accident—the second-phase Feelies used the same elements to create a warm, inviting sound for an album that’s less groundbreaking than its predecessor but easier to love. Two similarly inclined albums—Only Life in 1988 and Time For A Witness in 1991—followed before the band broke up, leaving other acts to pick up the pieces. The Feelies have begun playing together again recently and though the reunion’s a welcome surprise, their sound never really fell silent.