The Feelies “Time For A Witness”

A&M Records

Ah, The Feelies–the ever-loved, ever-geeked-out-over progenitors of the sort of New Jersey Nerd Rock that was later (though not much later) adopted and expounded upon by bands like Yo La Tengo. Perhaps it’s not quite fair to say YLT completely took on the sound of the Feelies, as YLT have come to cement themselves as something that is truly their own thing.

I’m sure many of you are currently asking, “Am I reading a Yo La Tengo review or a Feelies review?”, sarcastically if you have cared to read the headline. The point is, The Feelies put out their first album in 1980, called “Crazy Rhythms”. That album, for how under the radar it was at the time (and frankly, still is) changed the musical climate in any areas surrounding it. To this day, it sounds completely creepy and eerie and unlike anything that has been made, save for records by bands who have shamelessly ripped them off.

Oddly enough, though, one of those bands could be The Feelies themselves. After releasing a head-turning debut record, the band didn’t release another album for almost seven years. But it’s almost as if the band avoided a sophomore slump in doing this–by that point, they had changed quite a bit as people and, conversely, as a band. They simply could not be expected to duplicate their debut (not that you could anyway).

The best part is, if you paid REAL close attention to the headline, you’ll notice I haven’t even started talking about the album I am reviewing today yet! Oh man, this just gets more and more fun…

“Time For A Witness” was the last album by The Feelies, and it shows the band holding the ground of Velvet Americana they began to establish on their second and third albums. Whereas on their debut they wore their influences on their sleeves while simultaneously attempting to drown them in their anxious and hyperactive style, their last three albums–and especially “Time For A Witness”–present The Feelies in full tribute mode. It’s true that each album includes a cover song, but beyond that is the fact that the band is obviously a group of total music geeks who get the biggest kick out of emulating the aspects of rock music that made them fall in love with it in the first place. More than one song sounds like it could have come straight out of the Lou Reed songbook, with lines like “Held for ransom since the day you were born” (from “Decide”). There also seems to be influence coming from their peers, with plenty of hooks that echo The Chills, The Clean, and other bands of the Flying Nun scene of New Zealand. Something always sounds quintessentially American about The Feelies, though. One of these guys is probably fixing your computer right now, and afterwards he’ll go back to Geek Squad (which he probably invented) and talk about how much of a computer illiterate dumbass you were. He will then go home to his mansion, play FarmVille and listen to “The Blue Mask” until he falls asleep with an enormous grin on his face. But I digress…

I had the most fun with “Time For A Witness” as soon as I let go of any preconceived notions that it would sound anything like or echo in any way The Feelies’ debut, and that happened after the first song. Right away, I felt like I knew what they had been going for all along. It’s almost as if the haphazardness of “Crazy Rhythms” was born out of necessity–for instance, there has been a lot of hooplah about the guitar sound of that record because of the use of direct injection, or plugging the guitars directly into the sound board without using amps. Pretty cool, but who knows why they did that? Maybe it just sounded better to do that at the time than to play through whatever amps they were using. And the youthful energy; well, that comes from being a little younger. “Time For A Witness” presents the same band that made that first record and their same joy for music, along with a little bit of the wisdom age can bring. In a way, all The Feelies have ever been is a glorified cover band, but it’s almost as if there could be no greater compliment to pay them.

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