False Beats & True Hearts – Reviews
After taking a few years away from the studio, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang return with their seventh studio album, False Beats and True Hearts, and show absolutely no signs of age, wear and tear, or deterioration. Once again working with Ghost guitarist Michio Kurihara, the duo weaves together elements of folk, psych, dream pop, and indie rock into an enchanting sound that is both fresh and comforting. Very few artists are able to keep doing roughly the same thing for more than a few years without running out of inspiration, but Damon & Naomi seem like they could keep making albums like this forever without wearing out their welcome. Partly they manage this by varying their sound a bit from album to album. Here they add Yang’s piano to many of the tracks, giving them an undercurrent of ’70s singer/songwriter intimacy. The album is also a little less produced and arranged than the last record, with more direct songwriting and poppier melodies. That being said, it’s still a D&N record, so you can expect Yang’s trademarked dreamlike basslines; Kurihara’s fluid and whip-like guitar; Krukowski’s subtle yet powerfully flowing drumming; and songs that are autumnal and introspective, with the kind of emotional wallop only music made by people who are attuned to the true nature of life and love can have. Most of the emotion is transmitted through the instruments, but both Yang and Krukowski have fragile, untrained voices that can convey all kinds of feeling with just the smallest crack or whisper. On False Beats and True Hearts, the duo is in fine form as usual; Yang especially keeps growing more confident and expressive with each record. Her vocals on “Nettles and Ivy” are quite possibly the best work she’s done to date. Many of the songs on the album rank with their best work — the tender and nostalgic-feeling “Ophelia,” the raging (for D&N) album-opener “Walking Backwards” that features Kurihara’s most biting guitar work, and the heartbreakingly sad-sounding “And You Are There” all qualify. Taken as a whole, False Beats and True Hearts does, too. It feels like Damon & Naomi have always been around to soundtrack the inner lives of melancholy dreamers smart enough to seek them out, and with this album they continue to provide the same impressive and necessary level of solace and inspiration, deeply felt songs, and enchanted performances that they always have. – Tim Sendra
Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang are still most often celebrated as the rhythm section of Galaxie 500, two decades after that beloved group’s demise. Perhaps then it is important to note that False Beats and True Hearts is the fourth studio album the duo has recorded in collaboration with guitarist Michio Kurihara, of the psych-folk Japanese powerhouse Ghost. This means that Damon & Naomi have now officially created more music with Kurihara than they ever did with Dean Wareham in Galaxie 500, and over a considerably longer stretch of time. So it seems accurate to say that this, then, is their true music: hushed, vibrant folk-rock punctuated by discreet electric guitar and quiet horns, all of which bear only the most passing resemblance to vintage Galaxie 500.
In the time since Damon & Naomi’s previous studio album, 2007′s Within These Walls, the duo has kept itself characteristically busy. They’ve toured the world, released the video anthology 1001 Nights and the best-of compilation The Sub Pop Years, and overseen a lavish reissue of the Galaxie 500 catalog on their own 20/20/20 imprint. Given all that activity, it is somewhat surprising to hear how little has changed sonically on False Beats and True Hearts, and the album can give the impression that Damon & Naomi have used the recording process as a way to exhale and re-center themselves creatively.
It’s interesting to observe the range of sounds that have now become a regular presence in the duo’s work. There was a time when it would have seemed wholly out of character for a Damon & Naomi album to open with a trebly burst of psychedelic guitar, or for one of their songs to feature a languid saxophone solo. But over the course of their past several albums, these elements have become such a familiar component of their music that here at times the duo can sound a bit too comfortable. In addition to Kurihara, the album features guest spots by Ghost’s leader Masaki Batoh, trumpet player Greg Kelley, and multi-instrumentalist Bhob Rainey, and there are points where Damon & Naomi’s quiet vocals and thoughtful lyrics risk getting lost within their own lush accompaniment.
Damon & Naomi’s recent archival activity has provided listeners with an excellent opportunity to investigate their entire musical timeline. The tempos have always been slow, and the volume still tends towards the hushed and intimate, but the overall texture of their music has undergone a gradual change. In Galaxie 500′s music, Dean Wareham’s voice and guitar, Naomi’s melodic bass, and Damon’s drums were each given a distinctive role to play, and each stood out in relative isolation in the group’s spare production. On False Beats and True Hearts, however, the instruments are allowed to casually blur into one another, with acoustic guitars and piano and reeds uniting to create a single dense weave as Kurihara’s hypnotic guitar soars in and out above everything. It’s an inviting sound, yet one that often sacrifices sonic fireworks in favor of a general atmosphere of enveloping warmth.
Beneath the album’s placid surfaces there is a subtle but persistent tug of melancholy. The Naomi-sung “How Do I Say Goodbye” is a direct song of loss and mourning, and nearly every track on the album references the silent passing of time and the invisible power of memory and nostalgia. “The past is who we are but not what we may become,” Damon sings on “Ophelia”, articulating the theme of acceptance that echoes throughout the album. In typical fashion, Damon & Naomi’s lyrics on False Beats and True Hearts read very well on the page but don’t necessarily lend themselves to immediately memorable choruses or hooks. As with their other work with Michio Kurihara, False Beats and True Hearts is a slow bloom, an album whose rewards can become fully apparent only through thoughtful immersion. — Matthew Murphy
The Sunday Times (London) (****), May 1, 2011
A quarter of a century ago, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang sold the world that pervasive slowcore guitar sound with Galaxie 500, then split to work as a duo with subtler methods. They have been peddling diaphanous acid folk-pop for two decades now, bowing their heads patiently as it billows in and out of fashion, and their ninth album is among their best. The quicksilver guitar of Michio Kurihara, from the Japanese psychedelic collective Ghost, drips magic dust over lightly jazzy drums, arrestingly inexact harmonies and cautious, languid melodies that uncoil like cats in the sun. – Stewart Lee
What’s in a name? One fan’s dream pop is another’s shoegaze is another’s psych folk… Damon & Naomi have, for 25 years, possibly been better known as two-thirds of long-defunct Galaxie 500, even though for the last 20 they’ve operated as a duo. However, at no time in those two decades have they sounded so like their old band, eschewing both string and horn arrangements and the dark introspection of 2007′s Within These Walls on this breezier album. Of course, introspection is a relative term as Damon & Naomi continue to examine the less full part of life’s half-emptied glass on the gossamer Embers, piano-led “How Do I Say Goodbye” and even the squalling opener “Walking Backwards.” Do you like reading poetry while folded into a big armchair in some sunny corner? You’ll love False Beats and True Hearts. – Andy Fyfe
Record Collector May 2011 (***)
It’s been heartening to witness the groundswell of interest in Galaxie 500 over the last couple of years — and, thanks to some canny compiling and reissuing, the subsequent efforts of two of their number, Damon & Naomi.
False Beats and True Hearts is the first album from the pair in four years and, whether it’s a result of their recent resurgence or not, marks a move in a notably more upbeat direction than long-term fans may have come to expect. That’s not to say that there’s been a drastic shift in direction: the hazy nostalgia of “And You Are There”(“The past I thought was so distant/Flickers like an afterglow and you are there once again”) and “Walking Backwards” suggest that revisiting their back catalogue has stirred up some fond memories which, in turn, as influenced the duo’s most recent work.
As on recent efforts, the pair are aided considerably by the talents of Japanese psych-rock stalwart Michio Kurihara, adding layers of texture to these already sturdy efforts. This is a timely reminder of the pair’s talents, and should ensnare anybody entraced by the renewed interest in their past. – Jamie Atkins
Chicago Tribune (***)
The former rhythm section of slow-core masters Galaxie 500, Damon Krukowksi and Naomi Yang make music that takes its time, in no hurry to impress on False Beats and True Hearts (20/20/20). It glides rather than gallops – especially when Yang sings in a voice as light as a breeze rippling through lace curtains – which makes it perfect background for all sorts of civilized activities. But zoom in on the jewel-like songs and the group’s rigorously controlled brilliance – wedding acid-folk’s hazy glow to chamber-pop’s lush detail – can be hypnotic.
With Michio Kurihara’s guitar lines twisting around becalmed vocals like vines, the duo builds miniature gardens of sound – deceptively serene settings for songs about deception, memory, the knowledge that “the dawn won’t come till the night settles down.” That fragile perspective has proven remarkably resilient over 25 years and seven quietly impressive studio albums. – Greg Kot
Another disk of understated beauty from Damon and Naomi… 2011 marks the 25th year of Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang’s musical partnership, a bond that survived the deformation of Galaxie 500, one of the most influential bands of the 80′s, and his since produced a string of gorgeous, beguiling records and powerful live performances. Now returning with their first record in four years, the duo have lost little of the magic in the intervening years, and as ever, it’s lovely to have them back.
False Beats and True Hearts doesn’t deviate all that much from the dreamy, folky majesty of their previous work. To describe something as ‘easy listening’ is usually to give it the kiss of death in the eyes of many, but to be honest it really does fit for Damon and Naomi: their warm, resonant, naturalistic sound is effortlessly soothing, a spirit of wistful reminiscence making their records, this one no exception, the ideal listening for a balmy summer evening. For example ‘Nettles and Ivy’ is a quietly moving slice of melancholy songcraft, lush dashes of piano and subtle acoustic guitar accompanying Naomi’s hushed and fragile voice, while ‘What She Brings’ is a slow-motion, psych-inflected track with more hopeful overtones than one might expect from this duo.
Featuring one of the duo’s serial collaborators, the Japanese guitarist Michio Kurihara (Boris, Ghost), opener ‘Walking Backwards’ is perhaps the most immediately striking song on the record, steeped in understated harmonies, while Kurihara’s sharp but harmonious lead guitar broadens their sound; it’s the closest that we get to something truly surprising on this album. That’s not to say that it’s anything but a good record False Beats is strewn with desolate, sombre beauty and uplifting melody, particularly during ‘And You Are There’ and ‘Embers’ , where Naomi to exploits her piano skills to emotive effect. Indeed, final track ‘Helsinki’ deserves to be ranked among Damon and Naomi’s most saddening (in a good way) tracks, a glacial lament that should set plenty of us blubbing – accompany it with images of puppies in baskets and wildflowers and you’ll be an emotional wreck by the time that it’s it’s over. No- the issue is one that meets all bands who achieve some kind of meaningful consistency, namely having to try and strike the difficult balance between producing something innovative enough to keep people interested, and living up to their rich back-catalogue.
And while it’s essentially more of the same (albeit with a more buoyant tone than we’re used to), False Beats And True Hearts is pretty much there. With the current revival in interest in Galaxie 500 showing little signs of waning, this is the perfect way for those who’ve just discovered the legendary dream-pop outfit to begin investigating all that’s followed. Still got it. – Rob Sayce
Although some still may mourn the short life and abrupt passing of Galaxie 500 – with last year’ss back catalogue reissues no doubt exacerbating such feelings – it’s arguable that the split was ultimately creatively beneficial to the threesome in their subsequent creative roles. Hence Dean Wareham was able to take his distinctive tones, gifted guitar-playing and adaptable songwriting from the divorce to form Luna and build a subsequent art-pop duo with Britta Phillips, whilst Damon Krukowksi and Naomi Yang retained the band’s predilection for higher-register vocals, ethereal atmospherics and less traditional musicality for redeployment and expansion as a conjoined two-headed enterprise.
Certainly though, Damon & Naomi’s post-Galaxie endeavours have been less openly assessed and recognised than Wareham’s, even though a rich seven album run has already marked the married couple out as commendably uncorrupted and stoically independent. But such strong characteristics have also upheld daunting barriers. So it’s not been easy to visit their world without feeling overwhelmed in knowing where to start, with the absence of certain albums that emphatically demand more attention than others. They’ve come close before though – with 1992′s recently reissued duo debut More Sad Hits, 1998′s elegantly intimate Playback Singers and 2005′s elaborately orchestrated The Earth Is Blue – in nailing down the essence of what can make them so captivating. This latest and eighth LP can be added to that list of Damon & Naomi albums that almost act as defining standalone statements.
Walking Backwards – the opening track and preceding single – will undoubtedly help make False Beats And True Hearts seem like a place to point both the novice and the misplaced older fan. Being possibly the most unrepentant and hook-laden Galaxie 500-like torch anthem in their canon, the song fuses lush layered harmonies to psychedelic guitar soloing – from returning and well-used guest string-bender Michio Kurihara of Ghost – to rapturous and memorable effect. In its wake, the long-player takes on a more relaxed but still inviting approach, with the duo playing to their individual and combined strengths.
Following on from the greater openness and directness explored on 2007′s Within These Walls, Naomi in particular puts greater presence into her still unmistakably gossamer tracks. Seemingly taking some cues from Sandy Denny and Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee, it’s hard not to detect a slowed-down British pastoral essence in the gauzy mix of her songs, notably on the gradually swelling “And You Are There,” the beatifically wintry “Embers” and the blissfully serene “Shadow Boxing.” Damon – never a forceful performer either – finds more space to stretch himself out into, with the jazz-fringed folk of the opulent “Ophelia” being especially ear-catching. Twined together inside the relatively dark husk of “Helsinki” and on the yearning strung-out “What She Brings,” the duo also draw positive comparisons with the vocal symbiosis of Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.
Collectively the nine songs that make up False Beats And True Hearts don’t stray demonstratively from the path that Damon & Naomi have followed near-religiously since being coaxed into cutting More Sad Hits, but its subtly refreshed vocal shifts, balmy inviting arrangements, blur of rural-meets-urban asthetics and a clutch of mesmeric moments make it a record that could one day be considered as a true keeper in the couple’s discography. – Adrian P.
Let’s get over Galaxie 500, people. Sure, it was good while it lasted, but that band’s been gone for 20 years, and no one involved with the combo has anything bad to say about that fact. For better or worse, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have been honing a signature sound of their own ever since. Its essentials include their twinned voices in close harmony hovering over deliberate melodies expressed by Yang’s you’ll-know-it’s-her-in-a-note bass guitar; Krukowski’s sparse drumming and acoustic guitar strumming shade things in without getting in her way. When they’re on, that sound is a lovely and fragile thing, but on the albums they recorded for Sub Pop in the 1990s, they coasted on it, making music that was basically inert.
False Beats and True Hearts may move slowly, but it moves with grace, and it never lapses into the sameness of yore. The varied arrangements help. They don’t exactly shed their trademarked stately rhythmic style, but they incorporate Latin touches on “Ophelia” and “Embers.” Ghost guitarist Michio Kurihara’s hot licks are all over the record, kicking off “Walking Backwards” with a quivering fuzz lead, and adding e-bow tones over the stately keyboards on “Nettles And Ivy.” His bandmate Masaki Batoh is on the record, too, but Batoh’s contributions don’t call similar attention to themselves. Saxophonist Bhob Rainey and trumpeter Greg Kelley steer clear of the unusual sounds they favor in their duo nmperign and make like a real horn section; aside from some misplaced Steve Lacy-style licks on “How Do I Say Goodbye,” their parts are like updrafts that make the singing fly higher.
But more important is Yang and Krukowski’s evident maturation as writers and performers. Their singing pushes past surface prettiness to connect with the songs’ sentiments, expressing tenderness in “Ophelia” and persuasively negotiating a sequence of frustration, regret and hope on “Shadow Boxing.” The way the latter song diagrams a couple’s attempt to get past a fight feels like the work of grown-ups who have lived a bit, as opposed to the precocious, sensitive young ‘uns who enshrined their hurt feelings a couple decades ago on More Sad Hits, or the even younger folk in Galaxie 500 who didn’t set their sights much higher than scoring Twinkies at the corner store. – Bill Meyer
Is This Music? (Scotland)
It is now nearly twenty five years since Damon and Naomi first emerged. Initially as two-thirds of the seminal Galaxie 500, and then after three albums, as an act in their own right (starting their career with the gorgeous More Sad Hits album), Damon and Naomi have been responsible for some of the most sublime music released in that period.
Whether you are a new fan, or have followed them since the day you first heard ‘Tugboat’, their recordings are still sublime, and – I’m going to say it – life-affirming. This is folkier than some of their previous albums – ‘Shadow Boxing’ has hints of both Richard & Linda Thompson and Fairport Convention – and none the worse for it, either.
Other highlights on the album include ‘Nettles and Ivy’ and the little short of astonishing ‘And You Are There.’ I’ve already played this twice today, I want to play this album at least twice again before sundown. It’s that good. – Ed Jupp
Damon and Naomi are known and loved for their original, sparse, and sad sound but their songwriting has never stopped evolving over 25 years of recording and touring. The seventh album’s musical aesthetic borders on grand and ouches on cosmic, but is never less than lovely. The style was touched on in the previous album’s amazing “Stars Never Fade” cut, with just slightly more melody than dissonance and less of an orchestral backdrop than that of avant chamber music. Beautiful and brainy. And while certain members of the Terrastock crowd will cringe as I mention classic rock touchstones like Pink Floyd or the Stones, Many songs on False Beats and True Hearts are supremely catchy, as well. It isn’t hard to construct bridges between “Wish You Were Here” and “Wild Horses” with “Walking Backwards” and “Shadow Boxing.”
The voices and instruments of the eponymous duo are always front, center, and clear in the mix, with lush backgrounds that are gorgeous yet challenging and never pandering, thanks to arrangements by ace sax player Bhob Rainey. Meanwhile, the mountain-leveling forces of Kurihara are balanced by the soulful strumming of fellow Ghost member and D&N friend Masaki Butoh. Wow. Whether you consider it modern minstrel fare, indie folk for the advanced, or Boston pops for the unpopular-it’s conceptual music that doesn’t require effort to enjoy or appreciate. – Martin Wong
Since leaving famed dream pop legends Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi have spent the last umpteen years perfecting their haunting, melancholy songs this side of The Tindersticks. On the last three albums the duo have been ably assisted by Ghost guitarist Michio Kurihara, and he again joins them along with Massachusetts trumpet legend Greg Kelley and his Nmperign bandmate Bhob Rainey. Together they put together yet another collection of meticulously crafted pop songs that just manage to get their hooks under your skin. The duo’s label 20/20/20 famously issued the stunning ‘International Sad Hits’ compilation and ‘False Beats’ sounds typically indebted to that affecting collection of melancholia. While the sounds are effortlessly dreamy (no doubt fallout from the duo’s time in Galaxie 500) Damon & Naomi’s schtick is free of the tiresome whimsy we are lumbered with so often from the new-school shoegaze set. Instead these dreams become nostalgic dedications to loves, lives and feelings lost in the muddled strings of time. Impeccable, note perfect music from a resoundingly intriguing act.
The Onion A.V. Club
After Dean Wareham left the epochal dream-pop group Galaxie 500 in 1991 to form Luna, the remainder of the band-husband-and-wife rhythm section Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang-almost immediately released its beautiful debut, More Sad Hits. Since then, Damon & Naomi has rarely disappointed. But the duo has also rarely dazzled, preferring instead to keep its mystery to a whispery minimum. Damon & Naomi’s new full-length, False Beats And True Hearts, maintains the pace; the mood stays wistful, and the pace is ever glacial. But the album shifts sideways a bit, specifically into the ’70s folk-rock of Sandy Denny and Richard and Linda Thompson. Granted, Yang’s voice always bore a trace of that almost-occult melancholy. But sporadic peals of Jimmy Page-like guitar, sumptuous acoustic strumming, and curlicues of analog synth heighten the otherworldliness, especially on dreamscape lullabies like “Walking Backwards” and “What She Brings.” As usual, Krukowski pitches in his serviceable croon, most effectively on the aptly aqueous “Ophelia.” False Beats is by no means a reinvention of Damon & Naomi’s signature, sigh-worthy sound, but it does add a lilting arc to its unassuming grace. – Jason Heller
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 Backwards,” 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 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
At this point, it would be easy to wave off a new Damon & Naomi record — been there, heard that. And truth be told, False Beats & True Hearts is nothing particularly new from the duo; it’s another lovely, haunting album of psychedelic folk-pop, again in collaboration with guitarist Michio Kurihara of Ghost. But unlike most every other artist out there, these guys actually keep getting better, and some twenty years into their post-Galaxie 500 career, they have made what might be their most enjoyable album. It’s looser than their recent stuff, with a trippy, hazy beauty, searing guitar leads, aching melodies, and a lot more; if this was an obscure private press LP from some lost hippie collective, it would be reissued to thunderous praise. It IS self-released, and I think they might be hippies… let yourself love this record!
After Galaxie 500, guitarist Dean Wareham led Luna towards increasingly lower volume, channeling the Velvet Underground’s tension into lounge-tinged and club-inflected indie-rock. Similarly, drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang have taken, the past 20 years, a direction into pastoral, nostalgic, literate tunes. On this, their seventh record together, they carry the softer sound of Galaxie 500′s heirs that has dominated their interpretations.
Joined as on their recordings the past decade by Ghost’s guitarist Michio Kurihara, the trio construct a mature, dignified set of songs. Yang’s composed vocals always prove welcome, and she conveys yearning by her delicacy. Her husband Krukowski is more straightforward than was his bandmate Wareham in preferring a less quirky vocal style, but his delivery calmly supports these songs confidently, if often unassumingly. The duo has opted over their career to seek a proper, upright stance that expresses their work ethic, intelligence, and commitment.
The new album False Beats and True Hearts, on their own 20/20/20 label, follows their re-releases of Galaxie 500′s three studio albums (with concert tracks, sessions and rarities generously added), their own retrospective of their earlier Sub Pop solo efforts on CD, and live DVDs from both their bands. “Walking Backwards” may reflect this archival endeavor. As the liveliest song, with its aggressive guitar, it leads the listener to expect a more upbeat set than the previous CD, Within These Walls, which neared most of all towards urban chamber music, a jazz-tinged influence. I found that a pleasant but less engaging record; it tended towards inner moods rather than extroverted tunes.
Yet this music’s meant for composure. A slight shift back to mid-period Damon and Naomi marks this year’s album. No false beats, however. Yang’s piano complements these songs, arranged as if on waves that ebb and flow. Krukowski’s drumming was often overshadowed by Wareham’s guitar in Galaxie 500, but his masterful, understated backing provides a solid foundation for “How Do I Say Goodbye”, “Shadow Boxing”, and the appropriately titled “Ophelia”, mirroring a floating world.
“Nettles and Ivy” brings a pricklier sensation, if brief, as it resists its movement slightly, reminiscent of jazz not in its instrumentation so much as its suspension of progress for a beat or two. Kurihara’s guitar sets itself in fluid strums and expressive passages over swaying melodies, punctuated by Yang’s use of silence to emphasize her spare bass playing in “What She Brings”. “Embers” expresses the band’s contemplative preferences, but it benefits from the shreds of guitar crackling under the glow of piano and drums.
“And You Are There” allows Yang’s bass to move about as she sings with assurance. The guitar and drums construct a deceptively spare track that represents the ambiance of these musicians, reminding one of poetry, shorelines and memory. “Helsinki” closes this short selection of songs with a touch of the psychedelic folk which deepened their initial solo work, and the guitar’s regressive patterns underlie a handsome conclusion to a solid album. While I prefer their earlier songs which followed this pattern, nothing on this latest album can be faulted.
As with Wareham now with his own duo Dean and Britta, or with Luna’s later period, his former rhythm section will not shake the walls as did Galaxie 500, at least in concert despite their softcore reputation. Damon and Naomi, true hearts by their devotion to their craft, appear, long after their former partner Wareham suddenly left their first band, to have chosen a wise route. (The liner notes left by the duo in the Rykodisc four-disd box set of their former band remain the saddest I have ever read.)
Songcraft nourishes their efforts, which sink in, compacted as earthier, evocative tunes. These are wind-attenuated tendrils to their more barbed roots. For college rock of the ’80s, bands and fans reach the half-century mark. Audiences inherit a thoughtful, introspective set of sounds and lyrics. Damon and Naomi, assisted by Michio Kurihara (with three supporting musicians), have elegantly elaborated the possibilities afforded them after they were forced to survive as suddenly solo artists.
Yesterday, I heard Here Before, the Feelies’ newest album, appearing after 20 years of a parallel exit (right around the same time) from the acclaim of American indie rock. Those raised on tenser, edgier sonics gravitate as they ease into a steadier, balanced, stance. Middle age rewards both bands. (Tellingly, drummer Stan Demeski played for Luna on its earlier, peppier records.) As with their fellow admirers of layered guitar rock on complex, if self-effacing, patterns, Damon and Naomi represent the evolution of those who grew up with punk and came of age with post-punk, while listening to the eclectic sounds of the late ’60s. All of this, fermenting and distilled, rewards us on records such as these two this new spring. – John L. Murphy
To celebrate their 25th year of performing together, Bostonian duo Damon and Naomi exercise their optimism on their latest album.
For anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting a place along the lines of the DreamAway Lodge on a summer night, tucked deep in the mountains of Becket, Massachusetts, they’d know the perfect setting for listening to Damon and Naomi-outdoors, at night and surrounded by trees. After four years, musical duo and former Galaxie 500 members Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang will release their seventh studio album False Beats and True Hearts via their own label, 20/20/20, on May 9.
Capitalizing on a smooth sound, soft percussion and the elegant guitar playing of Michio Kurihara, False Beats and True Hearts is a dreamy, meandering record that’s a far cry from their dark 2007 album Within These Walls. The opening track “Walking Backwards” opens the album with a wailing guitar before melting into the relaxed “How Do I Say Goodbye,” crooned by Yang and the vintage sound of ’70s horns. In fact, the album as a whole grooves to a retro ’70s-cum-’90s vibe, bringing to mind Karen and Richard Carpenter on “Shadow Boxing” or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on “And You Are There.” Soft Beats and True Hearts is an easy-listening album in the best sense, a recipe of leisurely tunes and unfussy melodies made for lying in the grass enjoying the breeze. – Emma Lifvergren
Do you want to know what timeless is? Yes, I know the concept doesn’t actually exist, but in musical terms, at least, it means being able to revisit an album, time and time again, and still delight in what is has to offer. My list of timeless records would be fairly long, and it would contain Damon and Naomi’s “More Sad Hits”, “The Wondrous World Of…”, “Playback Singers, and now their latest album, which is superb, utterly sublime and, as with the aforementioned, won’t be lumbered with a best-before date.
With Damon and Naomi you always get a lingering sensation, moments when the music doesn’t actually stop, but holds steady, when you’re waiting for the apple to fall… It’s always intimate, always attractive, and the boundaries are way out there on the horizon, and of no concern at all. It doesn’t matter a single jot whether you reach them or not, because you’ll be returning to “False Beats and True Hearts” repeatedly. They wrap their music up in such a delightful way, and with each return visit, new layers are exposed.
Ignore the first half of the title, there’s nothing false about it. From start to finish – this is true music, from their hearts. – Kev A.
The notion that digital downloads played on laptops and iPods do even minimal justice to good recordings is quickly discredited by False Beats and True Hearts, the latest release by Damon & Naomi. Airy, spacious, and impressionistic, False Beats makes even a so-so stereo sound positively hi-fi (I know, ’cause that’s all I got). Steal the download, and you’re robbing yourself of the stunning sound that accompanies excellent songwriting and performances.
In Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi were a rhythm section. Since then, their chores on drums and bass have taken a backseat to singing and songwriting, and the once-prominent electric guitar plays a more limited role-although a strong resemblance to Galaxie 500 remains. Droning, trance-like melodies still dominate, with acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies creating more of the texture. On a first listen, I mistook these slow, languid melodies for downer-rock, but sunny dream-pop is a more apt description, as Damon & Naomi seem less interested in going on about what a bummer the world is than floating along on the current of yet another beautiful melody.
Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang sing well separately and together. At times, Damon’s vocals reminds me of Meddle-era Pink Floyd, especially at those moments when the overall sound recalls that early ’70s phase of Floyd. Naomi has a lovely voice-sweet but not saccharine-and by the time you hear her first two cuts on the record (“How Do I Say Goodbye” and “Shadow Boxing”) it’s clear that songcraft is another of her strengths. However, it would be hard to beat the opening track of the album, Damon’s “Walking Backwards”, or his masterful “What She Brings.”
The name suggests otherwise, but on this release the heart of the band isn’t two musicians but three. Although he’s used sparingly on “False Beats”, electric guitarist Michia Kurihara (from Ghost) adds an essential ingredient. On several tracks he creates mesmerizing solos that add a dash of energy without breaking the spell. Tasteful, colorful, and imaginative, he blends in perfectly with a musical soundscape otherwise dominated by acoustic instruments.
For me, the music on False Beats evokes side one of Pink Floyd’s Meddle, the haunting sound of George Harrison All Things Must Pass, some of the more melodic moments of the Incredible String Band, and a dreamy song by Ian Matthews called “For the Second Time.” Perhaps none of those artists are influences (and probably there are some newer bands I should be thinking of as well), but the fact that those names spring to mind so quickly is a testament to the quality of this hypnotic and compelling work. – Jeff Wilson
A Pessimist is Never Disappointed
You know, I should admit something here that may require me to turn in my honorary hipster card.
I actually like Damon and Naomi more than Galaxie 500, their originating band.
And, yes, I was aware of Galaxie 500 when they were a current recording act — got a promo cassette (!) in the mail of On Fire (1989) when it was new at the good old U. Md. Record Co-Op. The band at that time was on Rough Trade Records’ US wing.
Maybe it was Dean Wareham’s voice, maybe it was the almost slavish devotion to the Velvet Underground, but whatever the reason I understood Galaxie 500 more than I liked them.
(It’s worth noting here that the band’s posthumous Peel Sessions CD remains the one Galaxie 500 album I own.)
1992′s Damon and Naomi album, the Kramer-produced More Sad Hits, spoke to me — to use an overused phrase — in a way that Galaxie 500 never did.
Since 1992 — for nearly 20 years now! — Damon and Naomi have produced music that seems always on the verge of slipping away. And yet, their tunes never dip into the waters of frivolous or twee styles.
It says something about the limited vocabulary of the post C-86 indie landscape that I find it so hard to describe the music of this amazing duo.
To call it folk is a mistake. And to use the ill-defined dream pop label, I’d only be lumping Damon and Naomi in with acts who care more about effects and simple mood than songcraft.
I think we’re going to have to invent a genre for Damon and Naomi.
How about intellectual soft rock?
There’s nothing ironic about the use of previous forms of popular music here, just simple, direct, and affecting tunes that retain a hint of the unexplainable after multiple listens.
Just listen to album opener “Walking Backwards”: opening with a wash of guitar squall (from Ghost’s Michio Kurihara) that sounds like something from the Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) soundtrack, the cut unfurls and then relaxes as Damon Krukowski’s voice takes over with Naomi Yang providing the backing vocals.
Recalling the peculiar mix of the Sixties and the modern that made the first Mazzy Star LP such a pleasure in 1990, the track makes no attempt to hide its “backwards” glance.
Naomi sings lead on the second album track, “How Can I Say Goodbye” — no ? on the CD or lyrics sheet — and the song is so beautiful that I had to sit down when I first heard it.
The vocals here are quite literally breathtaking without being showy. Recalling the best moments of Sandy Denny’s solo years as she veered away from pure folk, the song is the highlight of this record for me.
On “Ophelia”, Damon sings “Lord knows who we are but not what we may be” and a listener can hear both regret and exhilaration in his voice. The song soars like AM radio pop from the 1970s but with the silliness of those one-hit wonders replaced with wisdom.
It’s worth noting how much the guitar of Michio Kurihara brings to the group now. Damon and Naomi have been working with the guitarist for more years than they were in Galaxie 500.
With the pull-and-twang-and-squall of that guitar, Damon and Naomi have a more robust sound that seems less rooted to any one obvious predecessor; one could could even imagine a performance where it was just the two vocalists with Kurihara’s guitar behind them, rippling off Jeff Beck-ish lines.
Damon and Naomi are not the sort of artists who suddenly introduce a radical element into their work. No, the changes are more subtle than that.
And it’s no insult to say that False Beats and True Hearts should appeal to many long-time fans of the band.
That said, there are new things at work here: Michio Kurihara seems more like a member of the group now, his guitar adding another voice to Damon’s and Naomi’s.
And the woodwinds on this record give the album a classic feel; what might have been ethereal on past records is now organic and direct, the emotions clearly expressed in the poetic lyrics.
Damon and Naomi deliver moments of beauty without being pretentious about it.
That counts for a lot in today’s musical climate.
False Beats and True Hearts should warm the hearts of old fans of the band.
And for a listener who wants to give the band a chance, this is a bright, sunny way to start. – Glenn Griffith
After 25 years of crafting lush, atmospheric arrangements dripping with melody, Damon and Naomi have long since mastered their craft – a point well-illustrated by this new album.
It’s hard to believe the duo remain a largely cult concern when they can create songs as well crafted as “Walking Backwards”, the harmony-heavy opener here. Michio Kurihara’s resonating guitar adds real depth over Damon’s lead vocal and a backing of horns. Stridently upbeat yet languid at the same time, it’s a major highlight on an album which has them at every corner.
Naomi Yang takes lead on “How Do I Say Goodbye”, which despite its title is less melancholic that their track record might have you believe, while the gently brushed drums and laidback strumming of “Ophelia” expand to take in an array of rich and full instruments.
There is a carefully constructed mood of warmth and ease here; Naomi’s piano playing begins to take quite a central role as the album progresses, and the record closes on the ornate and atmospheric “Helsinki”, maintaining the gorgeous sonic textures which characterize this exceptional album. – Lewis Hingston
Modern progenitors of the sort of whispery psych-folk that makes collectors get the knee-quivers, Damon & Naomi are now proudly looking directly down the barrel of a 25-year career. False Beats and True Hearts is a slo-mo crawl through ghostly harmonies, assured and glacial pacing, and the smoking hot psych guitar of Ghost’s Michio Kurihara. This combo turns “What She Brings” and “Helsinki” into crumbling epics of distorted literary dreams. In case this all verges on familiar for some, the track “Ophelia” spins out into a spectral, uptempo pop song with a soprano sax (!). But if anything signifies the band’s strengths, as well as their growth since the days of Galaxie 500, it’s “Shadow Boxing,” wherein trumpets blaze, guitars burn, and Krukowski and Yang’s vocals lift us all out of the mire-at least for a little bit. – Jon Pruett
With a distinguished lineage as part of Galaxie 500, Damon and Naomi set out to work as a duo and have enjoyed a fecund relationship. This album, their ninth, arrives on a sinuous, snake-like blast of lead guitar on opening track ‘Walking Backwards’, before dissolving into lovely chant-like pop. Damon Krukowski’s hazy lead vocal is backed up by Naomi Young’s spectral harmonies, gentle, simple percussion and some piercing electric guitar work (courtesy of Michio Kurihari from Japanese band Ghost).
Piano and acoustic guitar dominate as Young takes the lead on ‘How Do I Say Goodbye’, her childlike, dreamy vocal almost meditative and framed by jazzy drums and brass filling out the mix. The duo’s ability to switch between lead and backing vocals is one of their strengths, lending variety and changing tone to fit the mood.
False Beats and True Hearts blends a diverse range of influences, from pop to folk, jazz and psychedelia. A reference point is the more mellow work of The Velvet Underground in the Nico period (think ‘Sunday Morning’): Naomi Yang’s vocals even bear distinct similarities to the German singer.
This is an album, it has to be said, that is unlikely to set rock ‘n’ roll thrill-seekers pulses’ racing (it is pretty much what you expect from the duo). But it could be the perfect aural cocoon for walking the city streets in what looks set to be a long hot summer. — Ben Hargreaves
Faronheit 75 degrees
In the long-standing tradition of “ampersand” groups, the last few decades have spawned everything from Simon & Garfunkel to Hall & Oates, Matt & Kim, and Iron & Wine. There are tons more, but in terms of jumping off the page at you, it’s a fair set of examples. Often failing to earn a mention among these duos or full bands are Damon & Naomi, otherwise known as Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang. You can rarely get through a piece about them without hearing how they were the two members of the seminal late 80s/early 90s underground band Galaxie 500 whose name wasn’t Dean Wareham. People loved Galaxie 500 despite their very short-lived history, and as Wareham has gone onto his own ampersand band Dean & Britta with his wife (I’ll give you one guess as to what her first name is), Damon & Naomi kept working together and have put out six full-lengths of original material since 1992. So yeah, they’ve been making music for a very long time now and even had a lengthy stint on Sub Pop Records during its steady rise to the indie powerhouse it is today. They started their own label 20/20/20 several years back and have been putting their music (and re-releasing the Galaxie 500 catalogue) out on it ever since. After taking a few years away from writing and recording, Damon & Naomi are back with their seventh effort as a duo, titled False Beats and True Hearts.
As with a number of their previous efforts, Damon & Naomi are once again joined by Ghost guitarist Michio Kunihara, who continues to bring a fascinating tweak to the duo’s typically calm and quiet demeanor. Their songs more often float by in dark folk or psychedelic mood pieces than they do straight up rock, so when an electric guitar does buzz its way into the mix it stands out that much more. The album starts with a brief guitar solo from Kunihara before the main melody and vocals come in with a more standard acoustic guitar and drums in support. The electric guitar is by no means gone though, and it flitters in and out of the mix at various times, always a distraction but a relatively welcome one. It’s not the sort of thing that Damon & Naomi would have done several years ago, but their slow evolution towards a broader spectrum of sounds has only enhanced their songs and contributed towards keeping things fresh while still maintaining a strong sense of identity. There are even some that assert the duo has largely stalled out and aren’t doing enough to keep fans interested in their music. The thing is, there are so few groups that share the same genre DNA as Damon & Naomi, so in effect they don’t need to completely revolutionize their sound every couple records in order to continue engaging old as well as new supporters. Just the simple move from the guitar buzz of “Walking Backwards” into the piano-dominant Naomi-fronted “How Do I Say Goodbye” is proof enough that they’re more than willing to mix things up just a touch while mining similar emotional territory. The use of other instruments such as saxophones, trumpets, xylophones and a variety of other bits outside of a normal guitar, drums and piano is also something Damon & Naomi have been lightly working with their last couple records, and again they’re used in an economical fashion to avoid too much exposition or overstuffed arrangements.
Damon & Naomi’s other big assets outside of how their songs are instrumentally composed are their vocals and lyrics. Neither Damon nor Naomi have voices that emphasize strength and forcefulness, but perhaps they’ve been holding back the entire time to match their rather subdued melodies. No matter if one or both of them are singing on a track, their meekness and just above whisper quiet voices actually add emotion and heartbreak to these primarily sad songs. There’s a great warmth added to “Ophelia” courtesy of Damon’s vocals, which are additionally mixed in at an equal level with the lush acoustic guitars to help it work that much better. Naomi’s best and most confident singing to date comes courtesy of “Nettles and Ivy”, a gorgeous song about the earliest of morning hours where the sun is just beginning to peek over the horizon and everything is still glimmering fresh with dew. On the opposite side of the spectrum, “And You Are There” retains the nature imagery but applies it towards the sadness of a sunset, Naomi’s voice bringing forth the heartache of the slow burnout that is much more about ending than it is beginning. The nature imagery is one of the main topics the duo explores on False Beats and True Hearts, while life and love also get their fair share of musings as well, at times under the guise of well-crafted metaphors. With everything put together, much of the record sounds remarkably like something Beach House might put out, albeit with more instrumental flourishes and less outright organ.
If there’s a complaint to be had about False Beats and True Hearts it’s with Damon & Naomi’s commitment to mood and atmosphere over anything that resembles pop music. If you’re looking for something catchy with a solid hook to it, look elsewhere because there’s little to none of that on this album. They’ve done some of that on previous records, but obviously felt like it wasn’t a priority anymore. That will make it harder for those just discovering them to enjoy the record, and by that same token you might have issues with how immensely quiet the whole thing is. Still, if you’re in a darker mood, or even a more ponderous mood, this is a good record to soundtrack that. It’s not the best thing Damon & Naomi have done either, but it’s a gentle reminder that they still know how to make compelling records despite rolling up on what will soon be their 20th anniversary of making music as a duo in the post-Galaxie 500 era. It’s a shame they don’t get nearly enough recognition for it.
Since the turn of the century, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have found their groove, releasing well-received records every few years. Their eighth doesn’t disappoint, nor does it make any departures from the gentle, emotional and dreamlike work they’ve made since their 1992 debut, More Sad Hits.
While Yang’s bass, Krukowski’s drums and their understated, resonant vocals will always be the bedrock of the D&N sound, this is the fourth release to feature Ghost’s Michio Kurihara’s sinuous electric guitar. His playing adds an extra layer of texture and provides welcome dissonance to otherwise peaceful arrangements that also include piano and horns.
The lyrics are dense with vivid imagery that could be autobiographical but may just attest to the duo’s ability to create intimate moments for their listeners to enjoy. – Joanne Huffa
This is a surprisingly upbeat way of marking 25 years of Mr Krukowski and Ms Yang performing together. Their new record doesn’t focus as much on the introspective, melancholic sound that we’ve grown slowly to love, like a relationship that starts in friendship and admiration and evolves into something deeper and more soulful. Instead it opens with the definitive statement of ‘Walking Backwards’, with Michio Kurihara’s guitar firing off psychedelic flares, and a honeyed melody that installs it immediately in the memory.
Of course, there’s plenty of poetry and contemplation too, with their trademark intimacy splashed across songs like ‘Helsinki’ but, with Kurihara’s elegant guitar playing (excellent on the lovely and shimmering ‘What She Brings’), the whole record sounds more open and joyful than you’d perhaps expect of Damon and Naomi. Their use of textures, like trumpet on ‘Shadow Boxing’ and Naomi’s new fondness for piano on the dreamy acid-folk of ‘Nettles and Ivy’, places them at a distance from the “sad songs” stereotype that has perhaps grown up around them. The four year break since the last album has revitalised their sound and ensures that False Beats and True Hearts stands with their best solo material, and even compares favourably with the canon of Galaxie 500.
Q Magazine (***)
For their first LP since 2007, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang asked documentary maverick Chris Marker to make a video for the bitterweet “And You Are There.’ He obliged, with a static image of a distracted-looking woman. Happily, False Beats and True Hearts isn’t quite so inscrutable. Coming over not unlike an aneasthetised Belle & Sebastian with muted horns and lilting voices, sounds gently ebb and flow, with love song “Ophelia” brining sunlit jazz-pop and Shadow Boxing counselling the listener to seize the moment. And throughout, long-term collaborator Michio Kurihara’s multi-angled guitar remains a thing of inventive wonder. – Ian Harrison
Whisperin and Hollerin (8/10)
Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang are such a gentle and ghostly presence at the Alt. Rock feast that you’d probably wouldn’t have noticed that a lengthy four years have elapsed since their previous album – the sombre Within These Walls - slipped into the marketplace.
However, while it brought no ‘new’ music as such, those four years yielded important critical re-appraisal for Damon and Naomi. Firstly, their much-admired first solo album ‘More Sad Hits’ was re-issued, then the retrospective ‘Sub Pop Years’ collection appeared and finally all three of their studio albums with the seminal Galaxie 500 were granted the Domino Records re-issue treatment, bringing with them a fresh bunch of critical garlands from a new generation.
Thus, it’s the perfect time for DAMON AND NAOMI to finally unveil their new studio album - False Beats & True Hearts – and celebrate a staggering 25 years of working together into the process. Guitarist Michio Kurihara’s elegant and startling guitar playing again features (he’s worked with D&N since 2000′s ‘With Ghost’) and overall this new album sounds like something of a renaissance.
Certainly there are a few pleasant surprises. Opening track ‘Walking Backwards’ sounds unusually sprightly and poppy by Damon and Naomi’s ethereal standards, but – even allowing for Kurihara’s jarring fuzz-box guitar – its’ lush and beguiling full band sound captivates from the outset. Tracks like ‘Ophelia’ and ‘What She Brings’ also have a spring in their step and their desire to embrace a distinctly (if typically dreamy) Pop-addled sound is infectious.
Not that the plangent loveliness inherent in most of Damon & Naomi’s music is absent, mind. Delicate, but determined ballads like ‘How Do I Say Goodbye’ and ‘Shadow Boxing’ reflect Naomi’s new found love of the piano and also stitch graceful woodwind into their music’s rich tapestry, while ‘And There You Are’ could almost be a more hymnal-sounding take of Galaxie 500′s fragile beauty. More typically sparse set pieces like ‘Helsinki’ and the gossamer beauty of ‘Nettles & Ivy’ are the exceptions rather than the rule but they’re no less lovely for all that.
Damon and Naomi have long since perfected the art of the understated masterpiece, but with ‘False Beats & True Hearts’ they have made subtle steps towards a richer, more Pop-oriented sound without sacrificing the intimacy at the core of their work.As both a jubilee celebration and a signpost to the future, this one happily passes muster.
It’s been four years since Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang put out an album as Damon & Naomi. But just from listening it’s hard to tell that any time has passed between 2007′s Within These Walls and the new False Beats & True Hearts (20-20-20). Krukowski and Yang, formerly of Galaxie 500, figured out what they like as a duo almost 20 years ago, and they haven’t wavered from it since. This album is them doing what they’ve always done: slow, textured soundscapes that rest at the border between dream pop and shoegaze. The songs blur into one another, becoming one long, exquisite drone. The main way to tell the tracks apart is that sometimes Yang sings in her high wavery voice, sometimes Krukowski sings in his gentle half-speaking indie-boy voice, and sometimes they harmonize. And sometimes the pristine surface is broken by Ghost guitarist and longtime collaborator Michio Kurihara, whose virile classic-rock licks crack and bite against all that languid drifting with lovely incongruity. “All through the day / Waiting for love to arrive / Watching for signs it still exists / Hoping it could survive,” Yang sings on “Embers,” and this nostalgic sense of grasping after an ever-vanishing, flickering light nicely parallels the duo’s aesthetic interests. In some ways, Damon & Naomi are more timely now than ever-they look good through a haze. – Noah Berlatsky
The Noise (Boston)
Damon & Naomi have been releasing compelling work ever since they split off from Galaxie 500 way-back-when, and connoisseurs can see where a good deal of G500′s dazed ambiance came from in the first place. Kudos must also go to the exemplary, ethereal guitar work of Michio Kurihara, who has augmented the band’s mysterioso sound to greater heights. “Walking Backwards” begins the disc with a Byrdsy bit of delirium ala “Going Back.” Many remember McGuinn & Co. as seminal folk-rock and country-folk artists, but they also pioneered what critics are pleased to call acid-folk, and Damon & Naomi are improving on the tradition, particularly on “What She Brings.” Much of this release consists in rather low-key love songs with dazed affect and delicately melodic instrumentation. The most outstanding track is the achingly poignant, melodically wrenching, and brilliantly evocative “Shadow Boxing,” followed by the delicately introspective “Embers,” and the spine-tingling “Helsinki.” A must-have. – Francis DiMenno
The Spill (Toronto)
It’s hard to believe that Damon & Naomi have been making beautiful records together for more than 25 years. They are of course best known as two-thirds of seminal ’80s dream pop pioneers Galaxie 500, but unbeknownst to many they have continued to carve a delicate, yet impressive artistic career in the many years since.
Naomi’s gorgeous mother-singing-a-lullaby-to-her-baby voice, coupled with Damon’s missing-member-of-the-Go-Betweens vocal pastiche has given the group a one-two, he/she punch that many pop acts can only lust for. Not to mention that their majestic musicianship (Damon’s splish-splash drumming style and elegant guitar work; Naomi’s melody driven, innovative bass lines) has helped them generate an exceptional career which boasts a catalogue of great records.
And now, in their fourth decade of releasing music, they’ve put out False Beats and True Hearts, an album laced with the signature dream-folk style that has defined the couple and their art – and it is just as affecting as ever.
Whether you’re falling into the fuzzy guitar solos in “Walking Backwards,” being sprinkled with stardust in “What She Brings” or gently lead in the waltz of “Embers,” this record is an expertly crafted piece of pop perfection.
It’s sad but true that Damon & Naomi will probably never leave the shadow of their early career/band, but for fans that can appreciate the true talent of this group, this is yet another great addition to the D&N mantle. – Nathan Wood
NARC Magazine (North East England) (4.5/5)
The new release from cult indie stalwarts Damon and Naomi, formerly of Galaxie 500, is a celebratory reaction to their 25-year anniversary as performers. First track “Walking Backwards” is a sweetly-sung love song from Damon, with ethereal backing vocals from Naomi, which bursts into a hazy, shoegazey guitar solo. It’s an upbeat number, especially for a band normally associated with a more laid-back melancholy, and that feeling keeps on throughout the album. Gently strummed guitars circles around a piano on “Shadow Boxing,” and the harmonies are nothing short of stunning on “What She Brings.” Every song is touched by the brilliant lead guitar playing of Japanese cohort Michio Kurihara, who adds a psych sound to proceedings. False Beats and True Hearts is their first new release in four years, but in the meantime there have been reissues of earlier Damon and Naomi records as well as the three Galaxie 500 albums and a documentary/live DVD. So if ever people were growing used to the magical sounds of the duo, it should be now. This is the type of music I love to listen to on a sunny day – languid, shimmering and with a sense of warmth, and it’s coming out just at the right time to make it a contender for sound of the summer. – Paul Clifford