New Themes, Same Familiar Sound
40 years have passed since the Feelies first came together. On In Between, their latest album and first in six years, they are as mesmerizing and catchy as ever before. The album displays a band more conscious of their mortality, as they concentrate on making the best of the tail end of life.
Much like their main influence, the Velvet Underground, The Feelies never ruled the airwaves or were ever a household name. Their stake in the world instead stems from their heavy influence on a large crop of bands that followed them – i.e. R.E.M., Pixies, the Smiths. While much of this generation was unable to sustain momentum over the long haul, The Feelies quietly rolled on by for decades with their slow-burning acoustic rock.
Perhaps this is why The Feelies seem so content with where they are. Listening to In Between, we perceive this feeling immediately, as the album opens to an ambient setting — a peaceful night in the woods. The fire is roasting, crickets are chirping, acoustic guitar is jamming. It all comes across so effortlessly; much of the album seems as if frontman Glenn Mercer sat by the fire, picked up the guitar and began strumming while pouring out his inner thoughts. The overarching narrative of In Between is about appreciation: resolving to savor all that remains in the tail end of one’s life. While 2016 saw many albums about death and mortality (Bowie, Cohen, Cave), In Between takes a refreshing variation — it embraces life while exploring the intricacies of aging. Mercer’s lyrics throughout are simple and direct, using truncated sentences to tell his story.
Though the songs and themes are new, In Between is no departure. The Feelies approached this record the same way they’ve approached everything else in their catalog, by creating simple but engaging riff-based melodies recognizable to anyone familiar with their work. At times, it comes off as if the album was meant to fly under the radar; all the trademark Feelies sounds are here, but with a less jittery, more restrained delivery. The production is simple and autumnal, stopping shy of wistfully sullen. After a cursory listen, Mercer might seem resigned throughout the album. But with a deeper listen, a more blithe Mercer arises from the music.
The Feelies close out In Between the same way they begin it: they reprise the title track, this time with heavier guitars and grander production. Perhaps they’re implying continuity and the notion that we haven’t seen the last of them. At least we can hope so.