Yeah, I said new. I can understand your shock, seeing as how the band hasn't released a record in about 30 years. Rather than focus on the story of why they're back and all that, we should praise whatever god or goddess oversees Kiwi rock and its rich history, 'cause that deity has brought back to fans one of the best, most underappreciated Flying Nun bands from that's label's early, peak years.
Sneaky Feelings -- Matthew Bannister, Martin Durrant, John Kelcher, and David Pine this time around in 2017 -- make wildly-melodic indie-pop that, now as then, sits nicely next to that of The Chills and The Verlaines. Progress Junction opens with the easy, loping groove of "Do You Like That Style?", and hits an early peak on "Summer Song", a tune that suggests not only the band's finest earliest offerings but those of The Feelies, for example. The melody swirls and gently circles an organ figure, with Durrant's drums popping like he was trying to ape the Help!-era Ringo. Progress Junction does feature songs that sound very much like lost-gems from the glory days of the Flying Nun label ("Can't Get You High", "Don't Come Down"), but it is the near-ballads here that truly surprise and delight. "I Don't Blame You" is just lovely, echoing in some weird way stuff from the American band The Sneetches, while "Mettle" unspools with a gentle slide-guitar underpinning things, as the vocals sound decidedly like those on earlier Sneaky Feelings records. When they hit the peaks here on this reunion record, Sneaky Feelings manage to update that unique sound they always had back in the Eighties, with something more mature in outlook, as the easily rhythmic and catchy "Eyes On The Horizon" shows, all mid-tempo hooks and smooth vocals dripping over the top of the gently-rollicking melodic hooks.
At their very best, Sneaky Feelings always tempered the sort of alt-pop that The Chills offered with something more lush and lyrical. The lilting melodies here, and the bits that recall McCartney's early solo records, for example, seem utterly in-line with everything this band has ever produced. And if a long-time fan were to play Progress Junction and then that recent reissue of the band's classic Send You record, said fan would not hear anything out of sorts. The remarkable thing here is that this group didn't record for 30 years. But that doesn't matter as the results are of a piece with earlier offerings, and nothing here suggests that the players are not ready to return to making beautiful indie-pop. And then as now, Sneaky Feelings have a truly unique place in the Kiwi Rock universe, as the gentle taste of this album offering below, "Don't Come Down" illustrates, the familiar sort of hook that the best Flying Nun bands used, wrapped up in a package of sublime hooks and rich harmonies. So much of this record achieves a similar effect and this fan is just so happy and pleased that the band have not only returned, but that they are still capable of making magic like this.
[Photo: Courtesy Matthew Bannister, photographer unidentified]