Damon & Naomi – More Sad Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I was a big Galaxie 500 fan, but it took me a little to explore the efforts of Damon & Naomi. Often described as psychedelic folk (fair) and dreampop/slowcore (also fair), they have released over ten albums and have worked extensively with Japanese experimental band Ghost. I need to check out more of their stuff, which sometimes gets a little insubstantial for me. After the bitter dissolution of Galaxie 500 in 1991, spouses and rhythm section Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski continued to make music under the unassuming moniker of Damon & Naomi. Arguably overshadowed by Dean Wareham in their earlier band, the two have carved out a spot as highly respected iconoclasts. What’s more, each has expanded beyond music. Yang is a graphic designer (having done all the Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi sleeves), photographer, and filmmaker, with videos created for Tanya Donnelly, Waxahatchee, and the Future Bible Heroes. Krukowski, for his part, is a published poet and author, has taught at Harvard, and founded – with Yang – a book publishing company (Exact Change) that specializes in avant-garde literature from the 19th and 20th centuries.

What I Think of This Album

This is a charming, beautiful record that manages to establish the band as separate from Galaxie 500 while maintaining a sonic connection that nonetheless explores sounds that trio never attempted. Yang’s vocals and bass playing were perhaps never given their due in Galaxie 500, and Krukowski was considered simply to be the (excellent) drummer; neither of them has to worry about that ever again. Teaming up once more with their previous band’s producer Kramer (Bongwater), on More Sad Hits the three craft a meticulous collection of dreamy but grounded soundscapes, more or less hewing to pop structures.

The first almost-half of this album is unstoppable. “E.T.A” is a showcase for Yang, who adds lovely vocals with superb support on drums (and vocals) from Krukowski; someone adds a chiming, chunky guitar strum and then a silkworm solo – delicate but with considerable tensile strength. The band subverts Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” in the languid, hypnotic “Little Red Record Co.” by claiming with somber sincerity “Mother’s close / And Father’s close / But neither’s as close as Chairman Mao.” I’m guessing it’s keyboards making the odd noises that permeate but do not distract from the track, which ends with a repeated verse that takes on the permanence of a religious chant.

My favorite track is probably the gauzy eulogy of “Information Age,” with some stunning wah-wah guitar (approaching the sound of a theremin or saw). The lyrics here are also excellent; few lines by anyone are as witty as “The times are hard / Or so they say / But I don’t believe the Times / And I don’t believe the Globe / It’s spinning free enough to choose your way to go,” and the kicker of “They’re just nostalgia” in the chorus pierces my heart with every listen. In addition, Yang’s bass flows effortlessly and unpredictably through the track. Sometimes the melody reminds me of “Here Comes a Regular” by the Replacements – maybe it’s just me.

The enigmatic, lachrymose “Laika” floats by on Yang’s vocals and high register bass part. The duo’s perverse sense of humor is fully flaunted on bumper-sticker quoting “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington,” which takes the vertiginous tourist attraction and uses it as the skeleton of a song about a troubled relationship; this is the track with the closest thing to a Galaxie 500 guitar part, as someone (my guess is Kramer) unleashes a lengthy and blistering, but not flashy, solo.

Things generally get less immediate on the back half. “Astrafiammante” (which translates to “flaming star” from Italian) has some nice bass work again, but doesn’t really go anywhere. . . except to a very strange place with sort of faux-operatic vocals (both female and male), which I suppose is consistent insofar as Astrafiammante is one of the roles in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Krukowski takes the lead on the over-before-it-starts “Boston’s Daily Temperature,” which meanders along harmlessly; the arrangement and production are cool, but the song sort of stagnates.

Similarly benign, but far less interesting, is “Sir Thomas and Sir Robert,” which invokes the name of 16th century poet and diplomat Thomas Wyatt and perhaps is a jokey reference to the Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt, which I surmise in part because smack dab in the middle of the album is a cover of the Soft Machine’s “Memories.” I can’t really say much about the cover, but this is definitely where the psychedelic part of the band’s genetics comes to the fore.

I have to admit that instrumental interlude “Scene Change” isn’t bad at all – I normally hate this kind of thing – though obviously it’s not essential. The at-once-dreamy-and-ramshackle “Once More” is an excellent song that dares to get noisy. The cover of “This Changing World” – best known apparently in its Claudine Longet-sung version – is pretty good too, though the avant-jazz drum intro I could do without.

Originally released on Kramer’s Shimmy Disc label, I have the Sub Pop reissue; more sad hits, indeed.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Information Age,” though “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” gives it a good run for its money.

Release Date

November, 1992 (original); 1997 (Sub Pop reissue)

The Cover Art

Wonderful. This use of Man Ray’s Les Larmes (also just known as Tears) from 1934 works perfectly with the album title, and the color palette choices are superb. Excellent work from Naomi Yang.

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