Even on this, their finest album, Galaxie 500’s music is secretive and subtle.
Mike Barnes 2010
Galaxie 500 formed in 1987, when grunge was becoming a major factor in the US music scene. But the sound these three Harvard graduates produced was completely at odds with the fuzzed-up power of their peers. Even on their finest hour, On Fire, Galaxie 500’s music is subtle and slow burning. It doesn’t reveal its secrets immediately.
The group’s stripped-down sound invites inevitable comparisons with The Velvet Underground, particularly their self-titled third album. But Galaxie 500’s individual approach produced some of the most haunting and original rock music of the era.
The rhythm section of bass guitarist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski has a peculiar chemistry in which carefully placed notes and rotating drum patterns seem to hover rather than lock into a groove. Dean Wareham provides the forward motion with his propulsive electric guitar strumming, while offering skewed insights into everyday life in a thin, alarmed-sounding wail. “Why’s everybody look so funny / Why’s everybody acting strange?” he asks on Strange.
Released in 1989, On Fire is the group’s second album. With the help of producer Kramer, the songs sound slightly distanced, which has the effect of drawing in the listener to meet them halfway. The majestic Blue Thunder acquires a cumulative power as it moves through a typical succession of verses followed by chorus sections of Wareham’s wordless falsetto. There’s a subtle surge in energy when Yang joins in on backing vocals before the song concludes with a brief, cathartic guitar solo. Krukowski’s rumbling toms and Chinese cymbal crashes vivify Snowstorm, Wareham’s tale of his TV “going wild” as the snow falls outside. He adds psychedelic wah-wah and then cuts loose with some unhinged lead guitar.
The same less-is-more atmospherics and rough-around-the-edges elegance hallmark their debut Today (1988) and their swansong This Is Our Music (1991), which are also part of this current reissue package from Domino. Each album is accompanied by a bonus disc of rare or unreleased material: Today, for example, comes a selection of Peel Sessions, with more sharply focused readings of tracks from the album and idiosyncratic cover versions, including the Sex Pistols’ Submission and Young Marble Giants’ The Final Day. If you’ve not experienced these records before, now’s the time.