Damon & Naomi With Ghost - Reviews


The Wire
Post-Galaxie 500, the rhythm section of Damon & Naomi have involved themselves in some choice collaborations. With their gig as half of Wayne Rogers's gloriously short-lived psych unit Magic Hour and stints with acid balladeer Tom Rapp, they have set roots deep underground. Last year's 7" with Masaki Batoh and Michio Kurihara, of Tokyo acid-folksters Ghost, was their most thrilling instalment to date, twinning glorious versions of Dylan's "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" and Can's "You Doo Right". In the afterglow of those sessions, plans for an album were hatched and the resultant disc feels like a balanced, democratic collaboration, with neither unit dominating. Ghost rein in their more prolix tendencies, focussing instead on arrangements of a more intricate grandeur, though guitarist Kurihara still gets plenty of space to bleed all over the tracks. Ghost's faraway sound lends Damon & Naomi's straightahead arrangements a yearning, devotional air. "The Great Wall" hints at the zoned acoustic album that Led Zeppelin and Sandy Denny never made, while their version of Tim Hardin's "Eulogy To Lenny Bruce" recalls the frozen borderlines of Nico's Chelsea Girl reading. It would have been nice to hear more of Batoh's vocals, but either way you could soak in these sounds for days. -- David Keenan

AMG (All Music Guide) (****1/2)
By turns breathtakingly radiant and heartbreakingly melancholy, Damon & Naomi With Ghost finds these kindred spirits joining forces to make the most transcendent music of their respective careers; the two units' celestial acid folk sensibilities dovetail perfectly, illuminating their shared marriage of intensity and serenity to mesmerizing effect. With Ghost's Masaki Batoh essentially assuming the production duties so long held by longtime Damon & Naomi collaborator Kramer, Krukowski and Yang's dreamily contemplative songs strike a perfect balance between earthbound humanity and mystical otherness; the record is both comforting and challenging, its placid surfaces masking poignant meditations on resignation, dislocation, and loss. A profoundly spiritual thread weaves throughout the songs as well; from the Buddhist chants that underscore "The New World" to the Jewish lore that inspired "Judah and the Maccabees," this is sacred music for the new millennium. -- Jason Ankeny

On Damon & Naomi’s 1998 album Playback Singers, on which they cover Ghost’s “Awake in a Muddle,” there is a quote in the liner notes reading “Compromising quality of reproduction for the sake of nostalgia,” a sentiment which seems to embody the album and its departure from the overproduction of Kramer. On their collaborative effort with Ghost, they manage to improve the quality of reproduction AND keep the nostalgia. The songs are not as stark as those on their previous album, backed by the quiet yet full sound of their friends Ghost, they remain frail and beautiful but a little more emphatic. The record sounds most like what it is, old friends with similar musical ideals getting together to make an extremely intimate album. The songs remain true to the Damon & Naomi sound whileadapting the embellishments of Ghost; an organ or piano sound here and there, a slide guitar on “The Mirror Phase” or the extended psych solo of “The Great Wall,” or in the complex finger picking of “Judah and the Maccabees.” The effect is to fill out the fragile, beautiful songs, and give them a more orchestral feel, like bedroom chamber music.The Album opens with the country/psych twang of “The Mirror Phase,” and shifts to themore traditional Damon and Naomi style of folk pop, though laced with Ghost’s psychedelic brand of chamber music. Next up is Ghost’s sole writing contribution is the chamber-folkmasterpiece “The New World,” on which Masaki Batoh’s beautiful plaintive finger picking mimics a harpsichord and with the soft drifting vocal of Naomi, the song could’ve fit nicely onthe last Gentle Waves outing. They shift gears on “The Great Wall,” to a more expansive method with an intense underlying solo that comes in towards the end and shows off the sheer skill of Michio Kurihara which continues into “I Dreamed of the Caucasus,” which features an even more devastating solo. Damon and Naomi then take a more reflexive turn than on previous albums, harking back to their days in Galaxie 500 for the first time since the split on the extended free-jam of “Tanka,” and their Tim Hardin by-way-of-Nico cover of “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce.” “Tanka” clearly sees the duo revisiting their days in Galaxie 500, with Dean Wareham replaced by Ghost’s virtuoso Michio Kurihara. The track has the same rhythmic structure as freeform Galaxie jams like their cover of Jonathon Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste.” The difference, however, that separates this track from Galaxie is the lack of drone, the quieter tone allows for a more detailed and thoughtful sound that fits nicely with the expert musicianship of Ghost.The collaboration works amazingly well and demonstrates some of Damon & Naomi’s best writing to date. A must own for fans of Belle & Sebastian, Elliot Smith, or Appendix Out, and if you own any of either Damon & Naomi’s or Ghost’s work go out and buy this record immediately. -- Dan

Ptolemaic Terrascope
The combination of the enchanting, mystical folk melodies of Damon & Naomi and the Japanese maestros of acid-folk sonic exploration Ghost is about as mouth-watering a folk-sike coalition as it’s possible to imagine. The former’s wistful melancholia etched upon a moon-drenched backdrop with bass, drum and harmonium contrivances weaving in and out of their soaring vocal refrains serves as the perfect counterpoint to the latter’s alchemically Japanned earth-opera tableau staked out using keyboard, percussion and guitars. Up until the tail-end of last year the friendly collaboration was restricted primarily to live performances, including the unforgettable firestorm they served up at Terrastock II in San Francisco. A tantalising glimpse of what was possible was also revealed on Damon & Naomi’s 1998 album for Sub Pop ‘Playback Singers’ when the duo covered Ghost’s ‘Awake in a Muddle’ (the album itself being their first at-home recording following a chance remark by house-guest Batoh, who had marvelled at the acoustics of their front-room).‘Damon & Naomi - With Ghost’ is however the summit, a culmination of all that initial promise, an elegiac cascade of shimmering harmonies and shivering velocity from maestro Batoh fused with the widescreen panoramas of freeflight quicksilver guitar licks from the phenomenal Michio Kurihara, surely a candidate for early Sainthood if ever there was one. His elegaic cascades of acid axework are scattered throughout the album, culminating in two eight-minute opuses ‘Tanka’ and ‘The Great Wall’, during the course of which you can almost sense the rest of the band pause in awestruck harmony as Kuri invokes the Spirit of Esctasy, and notably too on the bleak, fiery ‘I Dreamed of the Caucasus’ (the album’s ‘Mr Lacey’ if we consider ‘The New World’ its ‘Fotheringay’; come to think of it, “What we did on our Holidays” would in fact be a perfect title for the album had it not been used already!).Small wonder Naomi sounds wistful and disconsolate when performing their interpretations of such gems as Alex Chilton’s ‘Blue Moon’ and Tim Hardin’s ‘Eulogy to Lenny Bruce’ - “you too would have been heartbroken to hear all the incredible and beautiful takes that Kuri, and the rest of them, insisted he go over because they were not right for some reason we could never fathom,” she said shortly after the initial recordings had been completed. “At every first take we would be blown away, and they would just say, ‘one more time.’ And then, they would proceed to request one more time for the next few hours, with a lot of discussion in Japanese between takes...”What I’d give to have had a hidden tape recorder lodged in their recording space. Two covers, two epics and a handful of prime examples of cross-pollination (indigenous species can be improved upon when introduced to a carefully chosen specimen from a different culture, a different world, it seems: witness the quintessential Damon and Naomi pieces ‘The Mirror Phase’ , ‘Judah and the Maccabees’ and ‘Don’t Forget’, on which Damon and Batoh out-pick one another in turns on acoustic guitar): This is one of those rare collaborations which, it seems, could only have been driven by the hand of Fate. It’s as if it were meant to happen, and now at last the waiting is over. Countless hours went into its creation and it’s guaranteed to bring the listener reward in equal quantities. -- Phil McMullen

The Onion
Dean Wareham still gets most of the credit for Galaxie 500, but that band owed just as much (if not more) to the rhythm section of Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang. It was Yang's humming, melodic bass that gave Galaxie 500 its distinctive character, while Krukowski's spare, echoing drums provided its atmosphere. While Wareham has found greater success with the more ornate Luna, Krukowski and Yang have remained dedicated to Galaxie 500's sound in their own ongoing projects, regularly rewarding the faithful with languid, spooky music. It's appropriate, then, that the pair has hooked up with Japan's psychedelic sort-of-folk-rock group Ghost. Not surprisingly, the two groups make sympathetic partners, though few might have guessed that the results would be as subtly gorgeous as Damon & Naomi With Ghost. "New World," written by Yang and Ghost's Masaki Batoh, sounds like an outtake from After The Goldrush-era Neil Young adorned with samples of Buddhist monks, while a cover of Alex Chilton's "Blue Moon" intentionally plays up its childlike tone. (Oddly enough, "Judah & The Maccabees" sounds like it was drawn from Big Star's third album.) "I Dreamed Of The Caucasus" might be the only song to shake itself from the album's self-imposed slumber, but the music still seems filtered through gauze. This slow, hazy, head-in-the-clouds music has a way of leaving sonic cobwebs long after it's over, the melodies lingering like distant memories. -- Joshua Klein

44.1 kHz
For lovers of the weepiest reaches of musical melancholia, Damon & Naomi are like prized penmen, true troubadours expressing timeless (and timely) thoughts. Their musical vehicle embraces the concept of "beautiful" sound, nestling sweet sounds close to a collective artistic bosom. On their fourth longplaying outing, Krukowski & Yang up the ante on acoustic opulence by collaborating with the core trio from Japanese acid-folk hippies Ghost: guitarist Michio Kurihara, keyboardist Kazuo Ogino and iconoclastic icon Masaki Batoh. Literally titled, With Ghost is a shimmering set of utterly gorgeous songs, nine numbers shining with warmth like newly blown glass. -- Anthony Carew

AMZ (Access to the Music Zone)(*****)
Since the dissolution of Galaxie 500, guitarist/drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang have released three very remarkable, introspective works. Their confidential thoughts bound in pastoral melodies, each album sounds as if eavesdropping in on their private world of melancholy pop and daydream jams. The Japanese musical collective known as Ghost (under the aegis of guitarist/guru Masaki Batoh) is an eastern contemporary, approaching the softer moments with Haiku-like simplicity. However, their works often blossom (volume wise and lysergically) into roaring, Blue Cheer-inspired freakouts. Blotter alert, this sonicsummit is a mesmerizing combination of both camps, as Ghost insert a bit of intrigue and free-form, psych noodling in Damon and Naomi's fragile material. A release that rests on its musical subtleties and its thought-provoking power, this is a blissful event like no other. -- Virginia Reed
Although the title of this album is, in fact, quite literal in that this is a collaboration between Damon & Naomi and Japanese psych-rock masters Ghost, With Ghost also stands as quite an illustratively accurate name for this, the fourth album from these ex- Galaxie 500 lovebirds. Sounding comfortably haunted throughout, these nine songs expand the creative trajectory of the duo's last album, Playback Singers. And though one would have thought that hunkering down in the studio with an exploratory riff-basher like Masaki Batoh would have brought Damon & Naomi back to the psychedelic blowouts they delved into while playing with Wayne Rogers' Magic Hour, this album actually finds them encouraging Batoh's trio to dig deeper into beautiful, organic atmospherics.And, to be sure, this odd quintet sets the controls for the heart of the sun. With Ghost simultaneously evokes the richly textured acoustics of a group like The Incredible String Band and the direct, minimalist simplicity of a band like Low. Of course, the occasional shoot-for-the-cerebellum guitar antics of Batoh (like his barely-restrained solo on "I Dreamed of the Caucasus") defy reference, but the seamless integration of acoustic strumming, post-collegiate lyrical references, crystalline ambiance and overall etherealness of the entire album make With Ghost an album that certainly stands on its own.Whether they're making Big Star's "Blue Moon" sound like it was being re-recorded for Kevin Ayers' Joy Of A Toy or rendering Tim Hardin's "Lenny Bruce" into an edgily bouncy eulogy, Damon & Naomi again show their taste in cover versions to be as unique as their originals. However, it is, in fact, the original songs here that shine. The album's centerpiece, the glistening epic of "The Great Wall" (less about China than about spiritual collapse), meanders along for more than eight minutes, picking up bits and pieces of melody, beauty and poetry along the way, finally closing out with a skull-collapsing coda; the result is a magnificent piece that neatly encapsulates what the duo – and this record – is all about. — Jason Ferguson

Austin Chronicle
The music of Massachussetts-based duo Damon & Naomi is not difficult to resist. Their unsteady, ethereal vocals and fragmented lyrics of gentle longing applied to slow, slow melodies do not demand nor even ask very loudly for your attention. But to succumb to a Damon & Naomi record, like this newest project with Japanese band Ghost, is to feel the true power in a whisper. Formerly two-thirds of the questionably legendary Galaxie 500, the duo has stayed ever true to the soft simplicity and eerie suggestion that made that band's amateurism so appealing, though their depth as musicians, songwriters, singers (they share all duties) have bloomed. The songs on ...with Ghost are far more dynamic than their previous work (brilliant in itself), due no doubt to the presence and input of the three Ghost members, who add acoustic and electric guitars and key-boards, as well as proffer arrangements that prove Masaki Batoh's penchant for the gorgeous quietude that Damon & Naomi have staked out as their territory. The vocal trade-off on opener "The Mirror Phase" makes it plain there is a deceptive but unmistakable depth to both their voices, the insistent surge on the second and fourth beats building an urgency and passion into the tune's loping cadence. Naomi Yang's ever-wistful singing makes "The Great Wall" a heartbreaking lesson in restraint and release, and is not at all out of place as the later "Tanka" rises to a lengthy cacophony of electric guitar. Exquisite. Submit willingly. -- Christopher Hess

Chronically tagged as "the former rhythm section of Galaxie 500," Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have now made one more album on their own than they did with their former bandmate Dean Wareham, and that's not counting the two discs they made with Magic Hour. Their own recordings may not match the sustained brilliance of their old band, but I'll say this for 'em: They're more consistent, heartfelt, and intriguing than Wareham's post-Galaxie work with Luna, even if they haven't been quite as hyped. (No CK1 commercials for these Cambridge-based indie-rockers, no siree.) Here, Damon & Naomi are backed in singing their sad songs by the enigmatic Japanese trio Ghost. The disc is the result of a one-week collaboration around the start of the new year, and millennial tensions and the snows of New England weigh heavily. Of course, we wouldn't want it any other way: Gorgeous melancholy is what these folks do best, and on tunes such as "The Mirror Phase," "Judah And The Maccabees," and a lullaby-like cover of "Blue Moon" from Big Star III, they outdo themselves, producing produce their finest collection since More Sad Hits in 1997. -- Jim De Rogatis

Philadelphia Inquirer (****)
The ideal of psychedelia is abused by musicians who only want to connect with the acid-fried rock of the '60s. They forget that folk, too, embraced a merry mysticism equally trippy. Separately, Damon & Naomi (Massachusetts' Krukowski and Yang) and Ghost (Tokyo guitarist-producer Masaki Batoh and friends) are capable of that cackling, galactic folk. Together, though, with Batoh producing, their galaxy shines with incandescent light; hypnotic melodicism ("Don't Forget"), and an overwhelming calm.Sung in a whispery hush, D&N's tales of angry gods, Buddhist chants and stories of "Judah and the Maccabees" infuse this pastoral music with a weighty weariness. But glistening acoustic guitars, dancing pianos and drifting mellotron strings turn prairie laments ("The Mirror Phase") and fiery freak-outs ("I Dreamed of Caucasus") into joyous psalms. -- A.D. Amorosi

Flawless. Whatever small world Damon & Naomi inhabit they have created and decorated it in such a beautiful, perfect manner that the listener feels honored to be invited. By calling it a small world the intention is not to insult, just to state a fact.It is inconceivable that the duo will ever attain even the heights enjoyed by their former group, Galaxie 500, and that isn't saying much in terms of name recognition and sales these days. In the world of Britneys and Korns, this release is but a drop late-night rain on a moon drenched street. Opening with "The Mirror Phase" Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, along with members of the Japanese group "Ghost" envelope you in floating vocals and the lilt of softly strummed guitars, with little sounds falling in the background. The song sets the mood for the record, and even when "The Great Wall" ends in a jangle of battling guitars, the ambiance of the record still echoes private and quiet.If you find yourself sitting for hours staring out your window one late night, watching the rain fall to the ground, hoping for lightning, this is the record you will be playing. -- James Mann

To kill a cliché, Damon & Naomi didn't so much "rise from the ashes" of Galaxie 500 as stay in place to see out Galaxie's gorgeous, yet slightly skewed, mood-pop vision after singer/guitarist Dean Wareham acrimoniously left the group in 1991 (to create the consistently "pretty good" alternative supergroup Luna). In the meantime, D & N have produced three albums of icy, low-key elegance, constantly refining the Galaxie sound that seems to have no true inheritors (though Dean's chugging Velvetsy guitar style and Tom Verlaine-ish anti-vocals certainly showed the anxiety of influence). D & N have consistently proven that they were more than just the rhythm section to that group's uncanny sound. Damon Krukowski's spare jazz-inflected drumming lagged behind and stretched out the spaces of the song, while Naomi Yang's sweet, aching bass lines welled up out of the undercurrent, singing their own melody.That said, Damon & Naomi with Ghost is the finest Galaxie-related project since that band's starkly beautiful On Fire in 1989. D & N self-produced their last effort, 1998's Playback Singers, finally cutting the apron strings of longtime producer Kramer--a relationship that goes all the way back to Galaxie 500's debut album. They produce this effort also, and bring in ethereal Japanese psych-folk group Ghost to join them. (Ghost's Masaki Batoh also coproduces.) The template is pure Damon & Naomi, but Ghost prove to be more than able accomplices, giving the duo the boost they need to near that rare stratosphere once occupied by their former band. Like Galaxie's atmospheric dirges, these songs often creep along and then build to a crescendo; but here there is something almost ritualistic to the proceedings. On "Tanka," the tribal rhythm of the tune trudges along repetitively until a distant buzzing, like a squadron of wasps, heralds the arrival of a prog/psych guitar solo that picks up steam as pianos crash all around. Adding to the solemnity of the album are the lyrics, which are spare and strange, like tidbits of Eastern philosophy. "Mirror Phase" starts out cryptically, as an "angry god" throws stones that "stand like a frozen smile," but then the glistening, euphoric chorus kicks in, surrendering melody with "'Cause I'm in love with something I can't hold... / With all I've known I can't help it / I long to see you again," stirring up nostalgia for a time so beautiful and fleeting that it almost never existed. This can also be said of the music on Damon & Naomi with Ghost, whose strange beauty seems almost intangible. But the touches added by Ghost-- including Baroque-sounding acoustic guitar and aggressive, melodic electric guitar--are just enough to anchor the atmospheric tracks. In fact, a slightly freaked-out solo in the middle of "I Dreamed of the Caucasus" sounds an awful lot like the howls and squalls of Dean circa 1989. --Erik Hage

PopMatters/Best of the Year list
If you are intelligent, buy only the best recordings in the alternative pop genre, and you are not easily impressed, this CD is for you. And everybody else too. Majestic, swirling mellotron and strings fuel the simple acoustic guitars and piano arrangements on most of the tracks. The lyrics are the most literate of 2000. You could hold these lyrics up as significant poetry. The real stuff. You know...Whitman, Byron, Shelley. Not Pete, but Percy...the English guy from hundreds of years ago, not the guy from The Buzzcocks. Seriously, Sub Pop should submit the lyrics to whomever judges poetry as literature. This pair, along with their Japanese friends, Ghost, are writing lyrics in another league here. A superb recording. --David Fufkin

Gravity Girl
For folk whose love extends to the weepiest reaches of musical melancholia, Damon & Naomi are like prized penmen, true troubadours expressing timeless and timely thoughts through a musical vehicle that takes the concept of 'beautiful' sound to heart, nestling sweet sounds close to a collective artistic bosom. On their fourth longplaying outing, Krukowski & Yang up the ante on acoustic opulence by collaborating with the core trio from Japanese acid-folk hippies Ghost: guitarist Michio Kurihara, keyboardist Kazuo Ogino, and iconoclastic icon Masaki Batoh. Literally titled, With Ghost is a shimmering set of utterly gorgeous songs, nine numbers that shine with warmth like newly-blown glass. Such songs, for the most part, sound rather like D&N with a regal, acoustic accompaniment, except for "The Great Wall" and "Tanka," which tip lustily into the wondrous world of acid-folk, spilling psychedelic sound as far into the ether as gathering guitar-solos.

reviewSusanne Swith ghost