Saturnine – Wreck At Pillar Point

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

I don’t recall where or when I got this album, or why. I must have read about the band in a magazine and then stumbled across Wreck at Pillar Point. At some point, I became aware of a connection to the Essex Green and the Ladybug Transistor, but that was years later, I believe. The band was from New York, formed by law students Matt Gallaway (vocals/guitar) and Mike Donofrio (bass) in 1993 (and originally called Saturnine 60). They added drummer Jim Harwood and guitarist Jennifer Baron, and lasted for fifteen years, releasing six albums. All of which you can find on Bandcamp, and I suggest you check out this unappreciated band. I do note that the final album, Remembrance of Things Past, is described as an “indie-rock opera loosely based” on the novel, and by then Baron had left and they had added a keyboardist.

What I Think of This Album

The easiest and possibly best, and almost certainly the shortest, description of Saturnine is “Michael Stipe fronting a slowcore/dreampop band.” The similarities between Stipe and Matt Gallaway’s voices are striking, though on this debut album at least, Gallaway can get a little pitchy and that might be a dealbreaker for some listeners. Others will grow frustrated with the languid tempos and may not appreciate the odd juxtaposition of skronky guitar solos in such a gentle setting.

There is a lot to like on this album and I suspect that some simple resequencing would’ve made it better. Mostly, if the band had been more strategic about the placement of the songs on which Galloway’s vocals are the most . . . challenging, the record would present better. A stagnant instrumental early on also doesn’t help.

The guitar noise – somehow both loud and quiet at the same time – on opener “This Time the Best” is impressive, as is the gnarled solo, which is equal parts Lou Reed and Neil Young. The somber “Ground Truth” slides by on a pretty melody, and the ghostly harmonies (presumably by guitarist Jennifer Baron) are excellent. I still think these songs should have been interspersed later in the track list.  

“Your Maps” should have probably been the lead track, with some nice chiming/ jangly guitar, as well as an appealing vibrato part that almost sounds like a violin. On the other hand, this may be the most REM-adjacent song on the album, so perhaps they were a little shy about it. Similarly, we all would have benefitted from the frontloading of “Summer Was a Waste.” The solo wouldn’t sound out of place on a Galaxie 500 album. The harmonies once again are subtly excellent.   

“Broken” is another winning tune buried in the middle of the album, even if the sad-sack vocals can be a bit much. The guitar work, however, is fantastic, with a laser-like solo as the obvious high point, but credit to the band for the overall arrangement and construction of the song. Almost as strong is “Slightly Less Than Even,” with probably the best singing on the disc, more excellent guitar work and what sounds like piano to me.

The bass on “Reeling” is reminiscent of Naomi Yang’s work with Galaxie 500. The band kicks up some dust on “Tell Me Lies Later,” we can enjoy more great bass and guitar work on the deceptively entertaining “Had Enough,” and there is a pillowy beauty to ballad “Maverick’s” (and yes, that apostrophe is supposed to be there).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Broken” consolidates all the band’s strengths.

Release Date

September, 1995

The Cover Art

It’s just really difficult to make out what this even is. To the extent one can, the sepia-toned pastoral image only reinforces the REM comparisons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑