The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms – Round 6: Tom’s Choice

Every so often something comes along that opens up a whole new set of listening possibilities, revealing a trove of music that had, up to that point, remained hidden or obscured. In the past John Peel, The Melody Maker and, dare I say it, Pitchforkmedia (as it was then) have all had a significant impact on my musical horizons and have introduced me to countless recording artists: some good, some bad and some downright ugly…but mostly good. At roughly the turn of the millennium, I purchased The Spin Alternative Record Guide and, for a while, this became my bible. I liked the way it was so confidently written even if, at times, it seemed to be deliberately willful. I liked that it wasn’t afraid to give ’10’s in its reviews. And I particularly liked the fact that it was crammed full of albums, even artists, that I hadn’t heard of before. My appetite was well and truly whetted and I scoured the local – and not so local – record shops looking for some of those lost jigsaw pieces. I picked up some great records in this time: Wild Gift by X, The Roches’ first album, some Pere Ubu classics, The Mekons’ Rock ‘n Roll, Compilation by The Clean, DB’s Stands for Decibels, most of Elvis Costello’s early records. It was an exciting time. I also managed to find Crazy Rhythms by The Feelies.

Crazy Rhythms is a great record, of its time but still fresh today. It’s one of those records which heralds a new beginning, using what has come before it but moulding it into new sounds and shapes. So, whilst echoes of The Modern Lovers, The VU, Can and Talking Heads can be heard loud and clear throughout this album, the band have a vision that is very much its own and are just using elements of their influences’ music to realise it. Each song is a single groove, no verse-chorus-verse predictability here, and structurally they remind me most of miniature versions of Halleluwah, Can’s epic groove fest. But where as Halleluwah is a sprawling, primal monster, The Feelies’ efforts are tight and spiky.

The album kicks off with a minute of barely audible percussion (the studio equivalent of the sound of a stalactite dripping onto the floor of a cave) that is joined, from way off in the distance, by a buzzing electric guitar that grows and grows and grows so that by the time the beat kicks in, the listener surely has no idea what is coming next. It is as thrilling a start to an album as any (hell, Nick had declared before the first song was out that he was going to buy the record!) and a great statement of intent. If it still sounds amazing in 2011, imagine how it must have felt to have chanced upon this album back in 1980! The Boy With Perpetual Nervousness (the album’s opener) sets the tone for the record, but its peaks are equalled, if not surpassed, by what comes later: Loveless Love, Moscow Nights, Crazy Rhythms itself, all blinding tracks that swell from quiet beginnings to huge, unpredictable grooves. Both Rob and Nick commented on the speed of the playing (fast!) and the unusual structures of the songs.

The Feelies took six years to produce the follow up album; I don’t own it and I don’t feel I need to. Crazy Rhythms is nigh on perfect!

PS…if the person who I lent my copy of the Spin book still has it and is reading this…can I have it back!

PPS…DRC Coincidence of The Fortnight The Spin Alternative Record Guide has their top 100 alternative albums listed. In the list Crazy Rhythms comes in at number 49, Another Green World at number 50. It’s nice to know that my choice was slightly better than Nick’s!

Rob listened: Another thoroughly pleasant shock. Expected this to sound like They Might Be Giants, based only on the observations that they look EXACTLY LIKE THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Instead it’s like a thriving cross between Bow Wow Wow, Talking Heads and Neu!. That’s pretty good in my book. Loved the sheer speed of it – boy these guys played fast – and loved the utter disrespect for song structure, replacing verse-chorus-verse with halfverse-extended groove-halfdifferentverse. I confess that once I’d got my head around the approach, I found the second side a little more repetitive, but that would probably open up with repeated listens. As this was released in 1980 it can nestle safely on my shopping list.

Nick listened: As insinuated in Tom’s post, I got along VERY well with this. I’ve only very vaguely even heard of The Feelies, and had no idea what they might sound like. I think I expected something jokey and New Wave, based on the cover (and the fact that Weezer pretty shamelessly ripped it off) and the year of release; to actually be confronted by a load of elongated, elastic, jittery grooves, more in common with CAN than Elvis Costello, was delicious. Like Rob I loved the speed of it too; I remember being told that it was harder to play slow than to play fast, especially when it comes to drums, but I’m glad that The Feelies didn’t feel the need to try and prove that. Something about it reminded me of really early Byrds, too; the energy and pace of stuff like Feel A Whole Lot Better, perhaps. I’ll be buying this when I get back from holiday in June and have some disposable income again.


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