With nearly four decades past since the release of the band’s pivotal debut album, Crazy Rhythms, The Feelies, on their sixth album, In Between, have stripped back the shimmering, jangly, idiosyncratic post-punk stylings of their original sound to its very core, opting for a record that boasts a simple foundation with only the absolute necessities used to decorate these subdued pieces. Whilst the New Jersey band’s 1980 debut was exciting, quirky and occasionally erratic, In Between is introverted, delicate and restrained, and it unequivocally stands out in the group’s discography as a result. The Feelies’ latest studio effort comes six years following the band’s previous album, Here Before, which marked the first release of new music in nearly 19 years for the jangle pop outfit. As the title of the album so clearly indicates, Here Before saw The Feelies return to their original stylings, born of the optimistic outlook of young boys in suburban America, with the band’s archetypal blissfully glistening pop sound returning. In Between, however, stands alone as the band’s most pronounced and ambitious change of style in their entire history. Out of the four original albums released by The Feelies before they disbanded in 1992, In Between feels most like their sophomore LP, The Good Earth, at its core, particularly as a result of the pastoral themes, both musically and lyrically, that provide the foundation for both of these records. As for the end product, the general presentation of the album is certainly admirable, with the band coming close to achieving the idyllic and quaint mood for which they seem to be aiming. However, the quiet nature of this album edges towards sounding somewhat bare at times, which is only emphasised by some of the questionable production choices made on In Between. Whilst this album is often successful with regards to the way in which it enthrals the listener with some pretty songs and subdued performances, there are certain instances in which a lack of full focus results in some of the material on In Between falling short of the mark.
The pastoral hue that is very much present all throughout In Between is evident right from the onset, before the band even pick up their instruments. On the opening title track, a recoding of a crackling fire can be heard, accompanied by the sound of crickets and birds, before the bright acoustic strumming comes in with some simple hand percussion for a rhythm section. Indeed, the college rock aesthetic of The Feelies is present on this track, but in the form of a group of boys sitting around a campfire with some acoustic guitars and the knowledge of how to play some major chords. Glenn Mercer’s vocal delivery is as hushed as the general mood of the album, but the backing vocals add a certain brightness that Mercer’s lone singing didn’t convey. The campfire singalong atmosphere present on the title track carries onto the next song, Turn Back Time, with the two tracks bleeding into one another solely through the noise of chirping crickets. The upbeat acoustic strumming is played with the enthusiasm of a college kid who has just learned how to play barre chords, which provides nice counterpoint to Mercer’s introverted vocal performance. This song, however, did mark the first instance in which I noted an aspect of the production on much of In Between that I find somewhat distracting, that being the mixing of the instrumentation in each speaker. The loud and buoyant acoustic guitar playing comes largely out of the left speaker, despite typically being the central focus of many of these songs, making for a mix that sounds off-balance. Compared to the light, jangly electric guitar playing coming from the right speaker, the acoustic is much more powerful, so I found it to be a rather questionable decision that was noticeably off-putting at times. Whilst I’m on the topic of the production, I also felt that Mercer’s vocals were often a bit too quiet in the mix. This approach was most likely applied as to complement his subdued delivery, but the real effect of that comes from his performance rather than the mixing, so there were numerous times where I felt like his vocals were a bit too overshadowed by the surrounding instrumentation. I don’t often like to dwell too much on production value, as that’s typically not what most people are interested in when reading album reviews, but these issues struck me from my very first listen of In Between, and they certainly affected my listening experience.
Whilst a large amount of my admiration for In Between stems from its mellow and restrained disposition, this also works against it in the grand scheme of a full long-playing record. I previously referred to the quiet intimacy of The Feelies’ performances on this record, which often near the point of a childish character, and whilst this most definitely creates a pleasant charm to the record, it also leads to some of the songwriting sounding somewhat underwhelming and rudimentary to the point that certain cuts around the middle of the tracklisting present a limited amount of memorable moments. Flag Days, for instance, maintains a nice aesthetic throughout its runtime, even giving off somewhat of a Neil Young vibe thanks to the vocal harmonies during the chorus and Mercer’s singing in general. However, the simple and predictable structure of the song, married with the relaxed performance, creates a song that suffers somewhat as a result of its straightforwardness, as it lacks a great deal of substance to really leave an impression on the listener. Several tracks engender almost identical reservations for me, with When to Go coming to mind as a song I wish were more developed, as it boasts some beautifully delicate use of interesting instrumental arrangements, but this isn’t quite enough to carry the song’s slightly wanting structure and progression.
The Feelies’ vision on In Between is clear, but the extent to which the end product is a particularly engaging one is slightly limited as a result of some rudimentary songwriting and occasionally weak production choices. The almost childish charm conveyed by the band on this record is certainly admirable, and there is most definitely an overarching quaint quality to this record that leaves a rather nice impression. Then again, the overall impression this album leaves on the listener is also hindered by this very same quality, as it results in a handful of tracks that are so straightforward as to come across as a bit too plain. The better songs on here are the ones that meet the alluring aesthetic of this album with some memorable melodies and performances as to establish an effective middle-ground, but the number of tracks that successfully achieve this is restricted. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to hear from The Feelies once again, particularly in such an organic format, so there’s surely reason to look forward to future plans for the group.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6.5/10