Anyone who ever wondered what happened in the mysterious universe of the Feelies between the pioneering New Jersey New Wavers’ spectacularly spastic, Devo-on-valium milestone of a debut album, 1980’s Crazy Rhythms, and its eventual followup, 1986’s atmospheric, R.E.M.-ish The Good Earth, will have their curiosity quelled by Music For Neighbors. Be advised, however, that this first-ever collection of archival material by the Trypes will raise just as many questions as it answers. For instance, why wasn’t more heard from the Trypes — who issued only an EP and one compilation cut — during their lifetime, and if they were making music as oddly intriguing as what we hear on Music For Neighbors, why the hell didn’t those wayward Feelies just stick with this instead of returning their other band to active duty?
Those questions may never be answered definitively, so let’s just look at the facts as they stand. Founding Feelies Glenn Mercer and Bill Million joined their pals in the preexisting Trypes, whose shifting ranks eventually grew to include Dave Weckerman, Brenda Sauter, and and Stan Demeski, all of whom would be part of the revivified Feelies in ’86. Listening to the mostly never-before-heard material on Music For Neighbors, its possible to identify some trace elements of the Mark II Feelies sound — there’s a murky, moody, mysterious feeling to these tracks. The blend of stark, minimalist post-punk sensibilities, low-key folk-rock textures, and a touch of spooky, garage-y Velvet Underground weirdness shouldn’t seem completely unfamiliar to anyone acquainted with mid-period Feelies.
But the crucial element swirling through these demos, rehearsal recordings, etc. that sets the Trypes apart not only from the Feelies but from most other ’80s alt-rock acts is a sort of slow-burning psychedelic flavor. It’s most obvious in the band’s smoldering cover of the Beatles’ “Love You To,” George Harrison’s Old Testament of Eastern-influenced psychedelia, but it makes somewhat subtler appearances in places like the point in “Belmont Girl Is Mad At Me” where the tune mutates from a Young Marble Giants-ish solemnity to burbling, effects-laden mindfuck territory — it’s a moment that perfectly illustrates the nonlinear logic that made the band both hard to pin down and incandescently arresting. Music For Neighbors can ultimately be regarded either as a tantalizing vision of what might have been or an intoxicating snapshot of what was.