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Damon and Naomi – False Beats and True Hearts

Broken Horse

Peaches and cream, assault and battery, Damon and Naomi…some things are just made to go together…

With the unbelievable proliferation of ‘Americana’ over the past dozen or so years (just check out the bulging racks in Rough Trade), it’s hard to remember a time before such market segmentation set in so ferociously, when acts such as Giant Sand, Galaxie 500 and The Palace Brothers wafted in their strange and unfamiliar sounds and atmospheres into Olde Albion. Whereas Howe Gelb’s records managed to distil down the sounds of dusty, desert Arizona – all cactus filled landscapes and resonant guitar sounds – and Will Oldham took you slowly up the cool, green valleys of the Shenandoah, Galaxie 500 took their cue from slightly more urban ur-springs, using Lou Reed’s ‘three or four simple chords can build a masterpiece’ template run through the textural filter of Spacemen 3. At a time when ‘loud’ and ‘techno’ were both becoming very much flavours du jour atop the mainstream musical menu, Galaxie 500’s brief life-span of three albums and live tours, both with Kramer at the controls, introduced a whole new generation to the art of delicate, gossamer song writing and inchoate melancholy yearning. All too soon, however, the Galaxie died a terrible heat death as singer, guitarist and all-round moody front man Dean Wareham cast the band aside just after the completion of US tour in support of The Cocteau Twins, and legged it back to New York City.

Given Wareham’s centrality to the band’s sound, it could have been expected that such a severance would have been more or less fatal to the rump of what, as a three piece, was a fairly small-scale proposition in the first place. The band’s drummer and bass player, the aforementioned Damon and Naomi, however, were made of sterner stuff. Releasing several pre-split tracks they had recorded together under the moniker Pierre Etoile (grab your nearest French-English dictionary and look that one up…) on Rough Trade in 1991, the doughty duo then kicked off an amazingly fecund partnership, navigating their way through a number of different incarnations, seven albums, several interesting collaborations and even literary publishing venture Exact Change, outlet for a number of fascinating works by all manner of kooky geniuses including Raymond Roussel, Guillaume Apollinaire and Chris Marker.

False Beats and True Hearts sees Krukowski and Yang (with their not inconsiderable output it’s a wonder that they don’t have a firm of solicitors as a side project) return to the studio for their eighth album. And what a thing of beauty it is too. Kicking off with “Walking Beauty,” which begins with a burst of pure Revolver-era backwards Harrisonism before dissolving into a float-and-fuzz drift along, and “How Do I Say Goodbye,” a beautiful and lachrymose farewell poem. The third track “Shadow Boxing” is the kind of heart-rending stunner that these people have trademarked over the years: Naomi’s graceful vocals, the Lincoln-style background brass, Damon’s wistful backing, it’s got the lot. It’s the kind of track that makes you wish your partner would finish your relationship just in order that you could feel sit in your room feeling profoundly sad and tearful and listening to it. Gorgeous.

However, it’s far from being the only show stopper that the album has to serve up. “Ophelia” would have made Hamlet even more sorrowful that The Bard imagined him, “Nettles and Ivy” strays gently into territory that Brian Eno staked out in his more pastoral 1970s moments, and “What She Brings” smothers you in a huge envelope of fragile sound. The shuffling beat of “Embers” could easily recall the Tindersticks, yet with Naomi’s ethereal call instead of Stuart Staples’ rich baritone, and “And You Are There” is a melodic gem, something to play oneself on the piano, picking out the chords after several whiskeys in order to ease the pain of the aforementioned break-up (although your partner might reconsider if you ask nicely – just play them this album to say sorry).

The album, though, really goes out on a high point, closing with the majestic “Helsinki.” With Damon taking lead vocal duties, this is Damon and Naomi at their very best, diaphanous incarnate, and making [post=”low-cmon” text=”Low“] sound like Cradle of Filth.

Dean Wareham, with his post-Galaxie outfit Luna, may have gotten to support The Velvet Underground on their ill-fated 1993 reunion European Tour (Wembley Arena anyone?…sigh…) but for my money its Damon and Naomi that have really carried forward the spirit of Galaxie these past two decades, and made the most genuinely memorable music. That they have also been involved in such diverse extra-curricular activities, and that their music hasn’t bored you senseless through saturation coverage as the soundtrack to a thousand corporate shitverts is also enormously to their artistic credit.

Will the formula ever wear thin? Well, it shows no signs of doing so, and, as long as their songs always make you want to sit at a window, sighing and gazing out at world with a faint ache in your heart, they should always have a place in that very same heart. Some things are just made to go together, like Damon and Naomi.

-David Solomons-

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