Here Before, The Feelies’ first new album in 20 years, opens with a clumsy bit of self-reference, with lyrics asking, “Is it too late to do it again / Or should we wait another 10?” But as soon as The Feelies move past the words and into the warm, hypnotic instrumental byplay in which they’ve always excelled, the out-of-character navel-gazing is quickly forgotten. Here Before doesn’t try to radically reinvent The Feelies for 2011. Aside from a lyrical preoccupation with the unlikeliness of this reunion—via songs with titles like “Should Be Gone,” “Change Your Mind,” “Time Is Right,” and “Again Today”—the band sticks to business, layering one jangly guitar and one buzzy one over softly tribal drums, while frontmen Glen Mercer and Bill Million take turns murmuring.
Because that sound is so deeply appealing—especially for fans who’ve followed The Feelies since they emerged from the late-’70s New York/New Jersey underground-rock scene—it’s tempting to make a bigger deal of Here Before than the music merits. The truth is that unlike past Feelies albums, Here Before has a paucity of standout tracks; it’s enjoyable more for its sound than for what the band does with it. But damn, what a sound. Merely functional songwriting aside, when Million, Mercer, and company recreate the suppleness of 1986’s The Good Earth on the chiming, tick-tocking “Later On,” it’s a treat to have The Feelies back.