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20.20.20

Galaxie 500

This Is Our Music

    After producing two albums celebrated by a thirsty underground network of fans, Galaxie 500 released what turned out to be their unexpected swansong, "This Is Our Music". The title is an intentionally declarative statement. After being labeled masters of the disengaged and forlorn, Damon Krukowsi, Dean Wareham, and Naomi Yang delivered a full-length comprised of their most stately material. Here, one can hear potential realized, as well as changes afoot. "Fourth Of July" is a surprisingly up-front song for the band, with rolling drums and a bass-heavy refrain, and it proved to be their most popular single. The track sets the stage for the dynamism of "This Is Our Music". When Galaxie 500 sounds wistful ("Summertime"), it sounds like years of yearning actualized; when the band sounds regretful ("Sorry"), it comes pleading on its knees. The trio found a beautiful balance between increased production values and knob-twiddler Mark Kramer's odd handed approach. For the first time since its original pressing, "This Is Our Music" is available again on vinyl. Cut by vinyl ace Kevin Gray from a remaster by Kramer and Alan Douches, the album sounds more vibrant than ever, and Galaxie 500 exists again as one of the most enrapturing and glorious bands to emerge from the underground in the past 25 years.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Andy says: Galaxie 500's third and final album felt bolder and more dynamic than their previous work. Such an amazing band!

    When Galaxie 500's today was released in 1988, it set off a chain reaction of quiet explosions still being felt. Never before had a record so emphasized the calming elements of rock music, transforming what at first seems like a collection of bridges into fully realized songs. And one can draw a straight line from here to the many groups they influenced, like Low, Belle & Sebastian, and Bon Iver. "Today" is full of idiosyncrasies. The trio of Damon Krukowski, Dean Wareham, and Naomi Yang were recent Harvard grads who intuitively eliminated any histrionic tradition to rock songs, leaving core emotion (not for nothing did they include a cover of "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste", by the kings of feeling, the Modern Lovers). It was produced by Mark Kramer, who was best known for his work with cataclysmic slop rock pioneers such as Bongwater, Ween, and King Missle. The band's hometown of Boston was just coming out of its love affair with Mission Of Burma and pouncing upon the spasmodic electricity of The Pixies. Despite, or perhaps because of, all these elements, "Today" thrived. More than 20 years after its initial release, its title is still no misnomer. The music, recorded with what many thought at the time was too much reverb, sounds present, alive, and indeed a product of today. Songs like "Flowers", "Temperature's Rising", and of course "Tugboat" (the band's debut single) stand the test of time and exist in an eternal now. For the first time since its original pressing, "Today" is available again on vinyl. Cut by vinyl ace Kevin Gray from a remaster by Kramer and Alan Douches, the album sounds more vibrant than ever, and Galaxie 500 exists again as one of the most enrapturing and glorious bands to emerge from the underground in the past 25 years.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Andy says: "Today" hit in 1988 and blew everyone's minds with its echoey, minimal, slow rock. Something for The Longing...

    Galaxie 500

    On Fire

      "On Fire" is widely recognized as the canonic pinnacle of Galaxie 500's career. The artwork conveys this, with a low-angle shot of the band, looking up towards an amber sky. This record marked the realization of their signature sound. Nowhere is it clearer than on the album opener, "Blue Thunder", the closest a song can come to waves crashing on a beach in songform. Lyrically inconsequential, with a chorus composed entirely of 'la's', the track's power lies in a systematic build and break of intensity that reaches a spector-like climax. It is the quintessential Galaxie 500 song, encapsulating all that was great about the band. With the Boston trio once again utilizing the bizarre genius of producer Mark Kramer, "On Fire" sounds like anything but. The guitars are warm blankets enwrapping Dean Wareham's vocals, percolated by the open percussion of Damon Krukowski and anchored by the emotion-laden bass of Naomi Yang. Songs like "Snowstorm", "Strange", and "Decomposing Trees" have an endless quality, without beginnings or ends, but rather frozen somewhere on a spectrum of melancholy. For the first time since its original pressing, "On Fire" is available again on vinyl. Cut by vinyl ace Kevin Gray from a remaster by Kramer and Alan Douches, the album sounds more vibrant than ever, and Galaxie 500 exists again as one of the most enrapturing and glorious bands to emerge from the underground in the past 25 years.

      Damon & Naomi

      Within These Walls

      Damon & Naomi have always been a bit more ahead of the curve than is good for them. Galaxie 500 ended before slowcore was a thing. Their psychedelic duo albums with Kramer came out while the Elephant 6 collective were still in high school. They toured the country with an acoustic guitar and Indian harmonium years before there was a New Weird America to receive them. And they made their lushest, most analog album before the vinyl revival. 2007’s Within These Walls came out on CD only, and is only now ten years later being released for the first time on vinyl — the way the duo intended it to be heard.

      Conceived as a DIY tribute to the great “mood” albums of Sinatra’s
      Capitol years, the album was recorded with real strings, real horns, real drums, and a very very real electric guitarist named Michio Kurihara. It’s a chamber record with ebow and wah-wah, featuring some of the most emotional songs of the duo’s career. “Lilac Land” opens the album in a somber mood, which never lets go. The string section — Helena Espvall, Margaret Wienk, and Katt Hernandez — underscore Naomi’s dark lyrics and melodies. The horns — Bhob Rainey, Greg Kelley, and Kyle Bruckmann — answer with wit and even a bit of joy, but they’ll never win the arguments here.

      This album was meant to cast a mood from start to finish, like Sinatra’s classic In The Wee Small Hours, or No One Cares. The album closes with two of its best known tracks: “The Turnaround”, a sweet love song with harmonies; and “Cruel Queen”, a ballad that draws on Damon & Naomi’s respect and knowledge of English folk rock. Sung to a traditional tune, Naomi’s crushing tale of a family gone wrong will keep you guessing till the end, and leave you watching the needle on the outgroove like Frank staring into his glass of rye.

      “Grey day celebration music for meshed afternoons; eleven strums and songs to savor as you wander till spring. Did Damon & Naomi dream them? Did I? Will you?” - Andy Zax

      People talk about Damon & Naomi as if they’re the raw infrastructure that remained after Galaxie 500 fell apart, a steel skeleton stubbornly standing after an earthquake. But when the pair began a new project, they weren’t adjusting so much as starting from scratch. By the time they released More Sad Hits, they had grown enough as musicians and songwriters that they didn’t need to lean on stark sincerity and reverb-drenched emoting. Instead, they reigned in their sound, favoring acoustic over electric, building more complex and specific textures, and exploring smaller sonic spaces. If Galaxie 500 was ahead of its time, Damon & Naomi are prescient in their own way, firmly rooted in the early ’90s but hinting at things to come. The project provided a necessary platform for the pair to focus, hone and build on the groundwork that they laid for themselves, peeling away layers to reveal a shy closeness that Galaxie 500 never could.

      The pair’s latest project, Fortune, is an LP released in tandem with Naomi Yang’s video piece of the same name. She refers to the work as “a silent movie,” though the visuals are so bound up in the music (and vice versa) that it’s more of a long-form music video, a visual poem set to the metronome of a textural score. She conceived of the piece to explore conflicting feelings surrounding her father’s recent passing; Yang was suddenly burdened with a massive archive of his artistic work (her father was a photographer), as well as the ongoing aftermath of flawed parenting. Her use of the term “fortune,” then, is tinged with sardonicism but also with nostalgia-portraits from the 1940s and ’50s painted by protagonist Norman von Holtzendorff’s father (also recently deceased, and who also left his archive in Norman’s hands) feature prominently. An ongoing tarot card motif ties in another facet of the suddenly slippery term “fortune,” using Damon & Naomi’s now familiar brand of close, acoustic warmth to explore the past’s bearing on the future: “I want to be over / To touch and be gone / Forget this amnesia.”

      Fortune-as a film or an album-is itself an expressive portrait, but doesn’t adhere to any obvious narrative; rather, it’s a comfortable space that the viewer can move in and out of, dreamlike and immersive. The eleven new songs don’t require visual accompaniment-Damon & Naomi have constructed the sequence to communicate through sound alone-but at upcoming performances the duo will be presenting them live as a soundtrack to Yang’s “silent” film.


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