Fortune – Reviews


Pitchfork (7.0)

Though Naomi Yang’s first short film, Fortune, is silent, it arrives paired with a soundtrack of new songs by Damon & Naomi. The film and soundtrack have an elegiac tone, with many of the album’s lyrics reflecting on the various burdens of mourning and memory.

Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski have been performing together for the better part of 30 years, yet in that time music has never been the sole focus of their creative energies. Damon is a poet and writer (and an occasional Pitchfork contributor) while Naomi is a photographer and graphic designer whose visual design skills have always been an integral part of the duo’s work, dating back to her album designs for their beloved group Galaxie 500. In addition to operating the 20/20/20 record label and Exact Change small press, in recent years Naomi has branched out into directing stylish and evocative music videos for such artists as Marissa Nadler, Julia Holter, and Elisa Ambrogio.

So it seems like a very organic progression that Naomi has now directed Fortune, her first short film. Though the film itself is silent, it arrives paired with a full-length soundtrack of new songs by Damon & Naomi, which can give it the essential feel of a 30-minute music video. The film and its music, naturally enough, work best in combination and enjoying them together (currently available for free) is an experience well worth the half-hour devotion of your time and attention. As is often the case the film itself feels incomplete without its musical accompaniment, whereas the soundtrack does function as a short but coherent and satisfying stand-alone collection of songs.

The Fortune soundtrack is Damon & Naomi’s first album of new music since 2011’s False Beats and True Hearts and, if you want to get technical about it, their first as an actual duo since their Sub Pop work in the early 1990s. After a long and fruitful series of collaborations with guitarist Michio Kurihara of Ghost, here the two play all the instruments themselves. The music is characteristically quiet and introspective but, as with much of their work with Kurihara, more lush and enveloping than the spacious Galaxie 500 sound. Using little more than acoustic guitar, keyboards and Krukowski’s jazz-tinged drumming, they have crafted arrangements for these 11 pieces that sound remarkably full-bodied. And it would appear that the natural constraints of the soundtrack form have worked to their advantage. The songs are concise and focused, hitting their melodic or lyrical marks and then quickly moving to the next scene without getting weighted down by repetition or digression.

The film, which stars Norman von Holtzendorff, centers on a man coping with the death of his father, a successful portrait painter, and the conflicted artistic and personal legacy he has left behind. This is deeply intimate material for Yang, who had recently lost her own artist father and was left to sort through a storage space of his artwork and what she refers to in her director’s statement as “the aftermath of his very flawed parenting.” This unavoidably gives both film and soundtrack an elegiac tone, with many of the album’s lyrics reflecting on the various burdens of mourning and memory.

As has long been their practice, the duo swap lead vocal duties back and forth and join together in casual harmonies, but given the project’s backdrop perhaps it is unsurprising that those songs sung primarily by Yang—”It’s Over”, “The North Light”—are the most immediately striking. The critical quibbles that have followed Damon & Naomi throughout their career can still be applied: Their hushed voices remain pretty, but not dazzling, and their cozy music never strays much beyond the comfort zone that they firmly established a couple of decades ago. Especially when taken in conjunction with Yang’s film, however, Fortune packs a subtle yet undeniable emotive force whose impact can linger long after the projector has gone dark.  – Matthew Murphy

Uncut (9/10)

Several years ago, a curious thing happened: Naomi Yang started making music videos. Already a gifted photographer, her keen eye translated beautifully to the moving image. More recently, she has made her first film, Fortune: originally screened as silent, Yang and Damon Krukowski have since recorded this soundtrack, which is full of jewel-like songs, minimally arranged for maximal emotional resonance. Damon & Naomi’s unique approach to song, where melodies seem to arrive through cascades of notes, shivering through complex skeins of acoustic guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, is a natural fit for soundtracking: evocative, but with plenty of open spaces. – Jon Dale

AllMusic (4/5)

Conceived as a soundtrack to a silent movie, Damon & Naomi‘s eighth studio album, Fortune, is their most intimate, most affecting set of songs to date. The film is Naomi Yang‘s own creation, an elegiac piece revolving around the loss of a parent, heavy feelings of nostalgia, and eventual self-discovery, but one needn’t see the film to get the point. The songs themselves stand alone and transmit all the devastating emotion that the film does, maybe even more since listeners can apply them to their own experiences and/or imaginations. It’s a harrowingly beautiful little record, not much different than previous ones, but with a more direct lyrical approach and a slightly stripped-down sound that relies heavily on acoustic guitar, some electric piano, Naomi‘s always perfect bass playing, and barely any drums. Only a couple songs have the full band lineup they usually use, like the album-ending “Time Won’t Own Me,” which sends the listener off on a note of hope. This overall spare approach suits the emotion-wracked feel of the songs extremely well and allows the listener to get right up close to their lovely vocals. Both Damon and Naomi are underrated as vocalists, and while they won’t win any awards, they both have very artlessly pretty voices and know how to use them for maximum effect. Not a huge surprise since at this point they’d been making excellent records as a duo for over 20 years. Fortune certainly counts as one of their excellent albums, and if it doesn’t seem to reach for the same sonic heights as some of their recent efforts, it surpasses them on an emotional level. – Tim Sendra

PopMatters (7/10)

Their music grows more reflective as this couple mature. Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, for over two decades, explore subdued moods on their intimate songs and vocals. After the demise of Galaxie 500, this drummer and bassist continued their partnership, insisting on an organic, integral sense of music that turned inward more than their previous band.

These 11 brief tracks accompany Yang’s half-hour video piece, “a silent film with a live soundtrack” of the same name, Fortune. It commemorates both her late father’s passing and portraits from the middle of the last century painted by the father of Norman von Hotzendorff. Norman inherited his father’s archive, as Naomi had her father’s photography. Add tarot cards to the title of this album, which conveys a autumnal, contemplative series of songs.

Recorded and played entirely by the duo, this album is closely miked. Acoustic guitars and reflective keyboards play off gentle washes of snares and a steady bass. The pair had brought their talents to Galaxie 500 in Damon’s jazz-based percussion and Naomi’s self-taught and insistent bass patterns. Many years later, these qualities merge with their voices, intertwined as on “The North Light” beautifully, and on some of the other tracks, separately.

The first few songs set the melancholy but not despairing tone. They blend together. They merge into a tapestry of introspective meditations on loss and recovery. They are dignified, and they drift along. Halfway into the sequence, “Shadows” stands out as a fine example of the layered, meticulous pace that Krukowski and Yang have mastered. Hushed, it does not let go of emotion, but it cradles it. Damon’s yearning vocals over his distant percussion and Naomi’s faint backing voice carry sorrow. “Towards Tomorrow” and “Hurt House” offer lovely instrumental interludes. Yang’s “Sky Memories” and allows her a lead vocal. Her contributions to Galaxie 500 before the mic were far fewer than guitarist Dean Wareham’s, but her unhurried phrasing always complements her measured bass lines.

Concluding with the longest song on an album clocking in at 28, “Time Won’t Own Me” hearkens to Damon and Naomi’s signature sound. It’s slyly jaunty beneath a shy exterior. It asks for connection; its modest arrangement and hushed delivery confess a desire for closeness. Fortune, another confident expression of this couple’s quiet command of music and lyrics, wins us over again. – John L. Murphy

Bearded Gentleman (4/5)

Can you really talk about Damon & Naomi without talking about Galaxie 500? Well I guess not, because that’s how I’m starting this review.  Galaxie 500 were a short-lived three piece alternative rock band that recorded three albums, and a few EPs (including a killer cover of Joy Division/New Order’s “Ceremony”) of dreamy, atmospheric garage rock that featured the simplicity of The Velvet Underground coupled with the tenderness of Mazzy Star. After the singer/guitarist quit, the rhythm section, continued as Damon & Naomi.

Since 1992, Damon & Naomi have been putting out their own brand of sleepy, atmospheric folk rock. I won’t lie to you and say that I’ve listened to everything they have put out of over the years but I have caught the occasional album or few songs here and there, but my general consensus has been Damon & Naomi albums are growers. Pop in one of their albums and I assure you, nothing will hit you in seconds and keep you hooked for life, but that’s not a bad thing, some of my favorite albums are the ones that have to creep under your skinand hit you when you least expect it.With their latest album Fortune the duo doesn’t stray too far from the status quo, but fine tunes it into something that grows and is as strikingly beautiful previous efforts. An album that’s hard to describe without hearing it for yourself to say the least.

Recently I had to make a five hour road trip to visit a sick family member. It was early enough to remain dark for the next couple hours, I was alone and needed something to keep me occupied, so it was the perfect opportunity to give Damon & Naomi’s Fortune my undivided attention. After about half way through it, I was in such deep thought that I almost, sort of forgot what I was listening to. On paper, it makes no sense whatsoever that an album that makes you forget you are listening it, can be called a decent record, so I’m sure you are scratching your head, and I was too! In fact, I started it over from the first track and tried it again. That time, I managed to get a bit further into it before I was trailing off again. The verdict was in: Fortune is background music.

I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but I think we can all agree that there are plenty of different reasons why we enjoy certain types of music. Dancing, partying, sulking, adrenaline, etc. Obviously there will be music out there that will make you reflect. Unless it’s something hypnotically repetitive like Kraftwerk, music that makes you reflect is due to some sort of nostalgia. Fortune doesn’t fuel nostalgia at all, I’ve listened to it from start to finish six times and I still can’t pin point what the lyrical theme is. It’s just soft, pretty, simplistic music that lulls you off into deep thought with it’s beauty. If I were listening to a rock record that puts me to sleep, it’s probably just really boring, but what sort of feelings should folk music invoke anyway?

From start to finish Fortune is pretty much one note and nothing comes out of left field. The standard structure is usually as follows: airy acoustic guitar strums, sparkly piano noodling, a couple quiet vocal whispers, end. It’s pacing is what makes it all come together. Songs like the opening track “The Seeker” or “Reflections” seem like a complete waste because they abruptly end a little past the minute mark before their groove sets in, while two other criminally short songs “Towards Tomorrow” and “Hurt House” make you sad that they barely reach two minutes. It’s been said that in show business, you are suppose to leave the audience wanting more, but this is genius how Damon & Naomi have this worked out to a science.

My favorite song would have to be “Sky Memories” but describing that one would be like describing them all. Just about every song shares the same production from a technical stand point, and being the songs are mostly the same tempo, that would make any other album sleep inducing, but in the grand scheme of things it makes Fortune sounds as if you are listening to Damon & Naomi in a candle lit, intimate live setting yet, not raw or live sounding. With all the songs sounding similar, by-numbers production, underwhelming song lengths, and over all short running time, it sounds as if I’m describing a boring, forgettable album, but Fortune defies those synonyms and gives the listener a beautiful, personal, listening experience. It might be glorified background music for an early morning road trip, but sometimes we need just that to remind us how beautiful the simple things in life can be. – Aaron Cooper

Other Music

The Sad Hits keep on coming. Since the breakup of Galaxie 500 nearly a quarter century ago, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have quietly built up a well-nigh unassailable catalogue of beautifully melancholy sounds. Fortune, the duo’s eighth studio album, is another worthy addition, filled with intimate performances, aching vocal harmonies and an evocative atmosphere. The record serves as a soundtrack to a lovely short film Yang made recently (you can check that out here), but these 11 tracks stand up fine all by themselves. The duo has collaborated with other musicians in the past (perhaps most extensively with Ghost/Boris guitar master Michio Kurihara), but they keep things stripped down and simple on Fortune, relying on Krukowski’s sensitive percussion and acoustic guitar and Yang’s twinkling keyboard accents and unmistakable bass lines for sonic color. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the album may seem a bit on the slim side, but it’s the kind of collection that rewards repeat listening, drawing you in with its elegiac ambiance. Longtime fans will love it — and new fans will love it, too.  – Tyler Wilcox

reviewSusanne Sfortune