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Crazy Rhythms (1980), 8/10
Good Earth (1986), 7.5/10
Only Life (1988), 7/10
Time For A Witness (1991), 6.5/10
Wake Ooloo: Hear No Evil, 6/10
Wild Carnation: Tricycle, 5/10
Wake Ooloo: What About It, 5/10
Wake Ooloo: Stop The Ride , 5/10
Here Before (2011), 5/10
In Between (2017), 4.5/10

The Feelies were among the bands that focused on translating the emotional tension of the "blank generation" into a new song format. Formed in New Jersey by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, they were a quiet and shy outfit, that rarely behaved like a rock band, thus predating the snobby attitude of college-pop. Crazy Rhythms (1980), featuring Anton Fier on drums, was a unique album, imbued with a controlled frenzy that employed psychedelic guitars, trance-like vocals, repetition of patterns and hypnotic beats. The resulting sound was hermetic, almost extraterrestrial, despite being rock music all right. Songs shared an ascetic and a geometric quality that recalled Zen meditation rather than punk-rock. The mood was halfway between ecstatic transcendence and detached decadence. Even the laid-back folk-rock and country-rock of Good Earth (1986), now featuring Stan Demeski on drums, had an hallucinated feeling, as if the band was performing traditional Earth music on the Moon. The eclectic Only Life (1988) failed to clarify their true substance: it merely increased the sophistication of the game.

(Translated from my original Italian text by DommeDamian)

Since its inception at Max's in New York in 1976, the Feelies of Glenn Mercer and Bill Million (both students in nearest New Jersey, and both singers, guitarists and composers), with Anton Fier (formerly in the Electric Eels) on drums, occupied a place of honor in the ranks of the experimental song of the new wave. From the beginning the group always remained on the fringes of the commercial circuit, so much so that the first recording (the 45 rpm Fa Ce La) took place only in 1979. As if that were not enough, they played in public very rarely, mostly during the holidays.

Fier left the Feelies to form the Golden Palominos.

The folkrock of Crazy Rhythms (Stiff), the historic 1980 album, recorded with Andy Fisher (Anton Fier) on drums and Keith Clayton on bass, is cold and alienating, like an android clone of the Byrds. The frantic strumming of the guitars, mostly "treated" electronically, on pop melodies with nonsense lyrics and neurotic rhythms, brings them closer to the decadent delusions of the Velvet Underground and the minimalist trance. On the brio and ease of traditional genres such as vaudeville and country & western, the Feelies inject lethal doses of modern elements: psychedelic guitar bursts, obsessive repetitions of patterns, hypnotic vocalizations, exasperated percussion; until you lose the sense of what they are playing.

The hypnotic chords of Moscow Nights, the "railway" boogie of Forces At Work, the epic pow-wow of The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness (with the wild tribalism of Fier’s drumming in the foreground), the epileptic gospel of their cover of the Beatles’Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey, the novelty Fa Ce La, the "acid" jam of the title track all combine a demonic quality with hermetic and spartan arrangements, they oscillate between ecstatic transcendence and detached decadence, alien to any drama, incapable of reaching a climax or end. The vocal harmonies are humble and modest to the point of anemia; the sound so ascetic that it is sometimes more similar to the Gregorian canon than to rock and roll. Some pieces (Loveless Love) exhibit such a geometric structure that they seem more oriental meditation exercises than folk songs; although their inspiration is clearly from psychedelic, or rather irrational at best. Yet each song manages to bring this minimal infrastructure, of a pastoral and religious character, into a frenzy of an urban and secular nature. Thus, shyness is combined with aggression, simplicity with depth and contemplation at the dance. From this practice of contrasts and interlocking comes the best assorted soundtrack to represent the neuroses of the era.

At this point it appeared that the group was already dead. They were gone, as they had come, in the twilight of the underground, returning to the amateur circuit.

Only in 1984 did the composing duo come back to life, with a short-run EP of soft psychedelia, Explorers Hold (Coyote, 1984), recorded by a seven-piece formation, the Trypes, which would later evolve into Speed The Plough and in the Wild Carnation.

The Feelies resurrected with Good Earth (Coyote, 1986) and a new line-up, a quintet that includes the prodigious Stan Demeski (drums), Dave Weckerman (percussion) and Brenda Sauter (bass and violin). The sound became more melodic and relaxed, bordering on the velvetier side of country-rock (On The Roof) and the more crystalline folk-rock (High Road), with increasingly hallucinated instrumental scores, obsessive accelerations of percussive guitarism and an insistent recourse to repetitive tremelo a la Branca. Surreal pasticas like Two Rooms, which renews the glories of the first album, neurotic hoe-downs like Last Roundup, Velvet trenodies like Slipping, distorted and obsessive ragas like Tomorrow Today and anguished ballads like Good Earth bring to mind images of a "wasteland", an extremely degraded landscape.


Only Life (Coyote, 1988) will thus be the Mannerist apex of their art-rock, capable of cooking together ideas taken from Brian Eno (For Awhile), from raga-rock (Too Much), from folk (the epic Higher Ground), from country and western (Away), from hard rock (Deep Fascination), from minimalism (Too Far Gone), from psychedelia (Only Life). The quintet is perfectly matched. Demeski, in particular, wins the palm as one of the greatest drummers of his generation.

A diversity that has always kept the public in suspense, the Feelies return after three years of silence in 1991 with their fourth album in fifteen years. Time For A Witness (A&M) is a deafening, almost heavymetal record, compared to the almost acoustic rehearsals of the 80s, and the transformation, while retaining the characteristics of the past (the frenetic guitar chords, the truncated solos, the layered rhythms of two percussionists, the icy and detached vocalizations) enhances even more the affinity with the style of Lou Reed (especially on Decide and What She Said), with the garage-rock of the sixties (Waiting) and with the most abstract acidrock (like the long delirium of Find A Way, in a riot of light percussion and guitar chords that gives rise to a long tail of instrumental jamming).

But the trademark of the Feelies, that accelerating or syncopating the rhythm to enter in a way that is at the same time frenetic and controlled, is now an artificial cliché: the problem, as Million himself pointed out, is that the rhythms of Crazy Rhythms were "crazy" because the group did not know how to play (and did not have the time to rehearse enough before recording the record), while now it is a matter of reinventing the rhythm while knowing how to play it correctly. And then to use it as a "support" on which to graft bluegrass songs (Time For A Witness), Dylanian ballads (Sooner Or Later) or simply beautiful pop melodies (Invitation). In this "cubist" art the new Feelies reach a stylistic perfection that borders on mannerism.

Mercer and Weckerman will return to lead Wake Ooloo, with Russ Gambino on keyboards and John Dean on bass. Hear No Evil (Pravda, 1994), the debut, flows in a much more traditional way, without great creative jolts, with "regular" songs like Nobody Heard, Forty Days, Another Song. Mercer tries a care-free and yet a more annoying sound (Anything and Too Long Gone seem like Television ballads), but above all the ideas seem to lack (Rise is practically a cover of You Really Got Me) and in the end, he takes refuge in the old Feelies sound (Don't Look Now).

On What About It (Pravda, 1995) the two songwriters amplify the music and reduce the rhythmic trappings. If we add to this the inevitable calm of forty years, the result is a typical American bar-band with no frills, very much tied to the country and blues traditions, and anchored around a very intriguing riff. That riff "is" the Feelies. It is recognized immediately. But the legacy of the Feelies ends there. Depending on your taste this can be one of the great roots-rock records (Don't Look Now), or a pale copy of themselves. Stop The Ride (Konkurrel, 1996) continues the descent into roots-rock for elderly ex-punk with increasingly less creative songs (Too Many Times, Stiff).

Along with Television, the Feelies were the major innovators of the guitar pop song from the post-punk scene. Their basic form is made up of short melodic vocalizations poised between different genres, followed by a long instrumental coda-jam in which the languages ​​are completely confused, between the hard riffs of Million, the "lysergic" strumming of Mercer, the martial cadences of Brenda Sauter's bass, and the maniacal tribalisms of Dave Weckerman's drums.

Fin dagli esordi al Max's di New York nel 1976, i Feelies di Glenn Mercer e Bill Million (entrambi studenti nel vicino New Jersey, ed entrambi cantanti, chitarristi e compositori), con Anton Fier (ex Electric Eels) alla batteria, occupano un posto d'onore nelle file della canzone sperimentale della new wave. Fin dall'inizio il gruppo si mantenne sempre ai margini del circuito commerciale, tant' e` che la prima incisione (il 45 giri Fa Ce La) avvenne soltanto nel 1979. Come se non bastasse, suonavano in pubblico molto raramente, per lo piu` durante le feste. Fier lascio` i Feelies for formare i Golden Palominos.

Il folkrock di Crazy Rhythms (Stiff), lo storico album del 1980, registrato con Andy Fisher alla batteria e Keith Clayton al basso, e` glaciale e straniante, come un clone androide dei Byrds. Lo strimpellio frenetico delle chitarre, per lo piu` "trattate" elettronicamente, su melodie pop con testi nonsense e a ritmi nevrotici, li avvicinano ai deliri decadenti dei Velvet Underground e alla trance minimalista. Sul brio e sulla spigliatezza di generi tradizionali come il vaudeville e il country & western i Feelies iniettano dosi letali di elementi moderni: scariche di chitarre psichedeliche, ripetizioni ossessive di pattern, vocalizzi ipnotici, percussivita` esasperate; fino a perdere il senso di cio` che stanno suonando.
Gli accordi ipnotici di Moscow Nights, il boogie "ferroviario" di Forces At Work, l'epico pow-wow di Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness (con lo sfrenato tribalismo di Fier in primo piano), il gospel epilettico di Everybody's Got Something To Hide, la novelty Fa Ce La, la jam "acida" della title-track abbinano una qualita` demoniaca ad arrangiamenti ermetici e spartani, oscillano fra trascendenza estatica e decadenza distaccata, alieni a ogni drammaticita`, incapaci di raggiungere climax o termine. Le armonie vocali sono umili e dimesse fino all'anemia; il sound tanto ascetico da essere talvolta piu` simile al canone gregoriano che al rock and roll. Alcuni brani (Loveless Love) esibiscono una struttura talmente geometrica che sembrano piu` esercizi di meditazione orientale che canzoni popolari; e nonostante la loro ispirazione sia palesemente psichedelica, ovvero irrazionale al massimo. Eppure ogni canzone riesce a calare questa infrastruttura minimale, di carattere pastorale e religioso, in una frenesia d'indole urbana e laica. Cosi` la timidezza si sposa all'aggressivita`, la semplicita` alla profondita` e la contemplazione al ballo. Da questa prassi di contrasti e incastri ha origine la colonna sonora meglio assortita per rappresentare le nevrosi dell'era.

A questo punto sembro` che il gruppo morisse gia`. Se n'erano andati, com'erano venuti, nella penombra dell'underground, tornando al circuito amatoriale.

Soltanto nel 1984 il duo compositivo si rifece vivo, con un EP a bassa tiratura di psichedelia soffice, Explorers Hold (Coyote, 1984), registrato da una formazione di sette elementi, i Trypes, che sarebbe poi evoluta negli Speed The Plough e nei Wild Carnation.

I Feelies resuscitarono con Good Earth (Coyote, 1986) e una nuova formazione, un quintetto che annovera il prodigioso Stan Demeski (batteria), Dave Weckerman (percussioni) e Brenda Sauter (basso e violino). Il sound si e` fatto piu` melodico e rilassato, al limite del country-rock piu` vellutato (On The Roof) e del folk-rock piu` cristallino (High Road), con partiture strumentali sempre piu` allucinate, accelerazioni ossessive di chitarrismo percussivo e un insistito ricorso ai tremelo ripetitivi alla Branca. Pastiche surreali come Two Rooms, che rinnova i fasti del primo album, hoe-down nevrotici come Last Roundup, trenodie alla Velvet come Slipping, raga distorti e ossessivi come Tomorrow Today e ballad angosciose come Good Earth portano alla memoria immagini di una "wasteland", un paesaggio estremamente degradato.

Only Life (Coyote, 1988) sara` cosi` l'apice manieristico del loro art-rock, capace di cucinare insieme spunti presi da Eno (For Awhile), dal raga-rock (Too Much), dal folk (l'epica Higher Ground), dal country and western (Away), dall'hard rock (Deep Fascination), dal minimalismo (Too Far Gone), dalla psichedelia (Only Life). Il quintetto e` perfettamente affiatato. Demeski, in particolare, si conquista la palma di uno dei massimi batteristi della sua generazione.

Complesso che ha sempre tenuto il pubblico con il fiato sospeso, i Feelies ritornano dopo tre anni di silenzio nel 1991 con il loro quarto album in quindici anni. Time For A Witness (A&M) e` un disco assordante, quasi heavymetal, paragonato alle prove quasi acustiche degli anni '80, e la trasformazione, pur conservando le caratteristiche del passato (i frenetici accordi di chitarra, gli assoli troncati, i ritmi stratificati di due percussionisti, i vocalizzi gelidi e distaccati) esalta ancor piu` l'affinita` con lo stile di Lou Reed (soprattutto su Decide e What She Said), con il garage-rock degli anni Sessanta (Waiting) e con le composizioni piu` astratte dell'acidrock (vedi il lungo delirio di Find A Way, in un tripudio di percussioni leggere e accordi chitarristici che da luogo a una lunga coda di jamming strumentale).
Ma il marchio di fabbrica dei Feelies, quell'accelerare o sincopare il ritmo per entrare in un modo al tempo stesso frenetico e controllato, e` ormai un clich e` artificiale: il problema, come ha fatto notare lo stesso Million, e` che i ritmi di Crazy Rhythm erano "pazzi" perche' il gruppo non sapeva suonare (e non ebbe comunque il tempo di provare a sufficienza prima di registrare il disco), mentre adesso si tratta di reinventare il ritmo pur sapendolo suonare correttamente. E poi di usarlo come "supporto" su cui innestare brani di bluegrass (Time For A Witness), ballate dylaniane (Sooner Or Later) o semplicemente delle belle melodie pop (Invitation). In quest'arte "cubista" i nuovi Feelies raggiungono una perfezione stilistica che rasenta il manierismo.

Peccato che proprio a quel punto si sciolgano.

Mercer e Weckerman torneranno alla testa dei Wake Ooloo, con Russ Gambino alle tastiere e John Dean al basso. Hear No Evil (Pravda, 1994), l'album d'esordio, scorre in maniera molto piu` tradizionale, senza grandi scossoni creativi, con canzoni "regolari" come Nobody Heard, Forty Days, Another Song. Mercer prova un suono piu` libero e fastidioso (Anything e Too Long GOne sembrano ballate dei Television), ma sembrano mancare soprattutto le idee (Rise e` praticamente una cover di You Really Got Me) e alla fine si rifugia nel vecchio sound dei Feelies (Don't Look Now).
Su What About It (Pravda, 1995) i due cantautori amplificano la musica e riducono gli orpelli ritmici. Se a questo aggiungiamo l'inevitabile pacatezza dei quarant'anni, il risultato e` una tipica bar-band americana senza fronzoli, molto legata alle tradizioni country e blues, e ancorata attorno a un riff molto intrigante. Quel riff "e`" i Feelies. Lo si riconosce subito. Ma il lascito dei Feelies finisce li`. A seconda dei gusti questo puo` essere uno dei grandi dischi di roots-rock (Don't Look Now), o una pallida copia dei Feelies. Stop The Ride (Konkurrel, 1996) continua la discesa nel roots-rock per attempati ex-punk con canzoni sempre meno creative (Too Many Times, Stiff).

Insieme con i Television, i Feelies sono stati i maggiori innovatori della canzone di pop chitarristico. La loro forma base e` costituita da brevi vocalizzi melodici in bilico fra diversi generi, seguiti da una lunga coda-jam strumentale nella quale i linguaggi si confondono del tutto, fra i riff duri di Million, gli strimpelli "lisergici" di Mercer, le cadenze marziali del basso di Brenda Sauter, i tribalismi maniacali della batteria di Dave Weckerman.

The Feelies (guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, bassist Brenda Sauter, drummer Stanley Demeski, and percussionist Dave Weckerman) reunited for Here Before (Bar None, 2011), a diligent sequel to their masterpieces.

In Between (2017) is mostly disposable, mostly mellow and mostly acoustic. Things improve towards the end with Time Will Tell and the nine-minute In Between, one of their most experimental compositions.

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