This lovingly-sequenced collection is the perfect introduction to their twilight world.
Stevie Chick 2009-08-24
"The music industry in the early 90s was on a money-crazed high,” write Damon & Naomi, in liner-notes to this compilation of their work for venerated US underground label Sub Pop. “It all seemed so irrelevant to what was meaningful to us about music, we decided to stay away.”
Certainly, no-one could accuse the duo of being shameless self-promoters. When their previous group – the dreamily downbeat Massachusetts indie trio Galaxie 500 – split following the exit of frontman Dean Wareham in 1991, Damon & Naomi had to be cajoled into recording again by Galaxie’s long-serving producer, Kramer. Similarly, they resisted touring until members of Japanese psychedelic group Ghost agreed to serve as their backing band in 1995, beginning a relationship that would continue into the studio, delivering 2000’s wonderful With Ghost album.
As befits such reluctant ‘stars’, they make fine bedroom music: introverted and melancholic, but possessed of a beauty that seduces easily. Stepping back from the reverb-heavy dream-pop of Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi favour an achingly restrained folksong: early tracks like Forgot to Get High and Tour of the World evoke the first Velvets album with their muted melodies, sparse instrumentation and death-rattle tambourine, and in their hypnotic, entrancing ambience.
It’s this simplicity that makes their hushed and unassuming music so affecting. With the addition of Ghost’s Michio Kurihara, who plays lead guitar on twelve of these fifteen tracks, Damon & Naomi found a musician whose emotive playing perfectly complimented their sad, wise music: their cover of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren finds Kurihara plucking a tear-stricken tremolo-laden solo that’s the perfect counterpart to the duo’s dolorous harmonies, while his heart-breaking slide-guitar licks on The Mirror Phases wonderfully accent that song’s graceful mourn.
These, then, are soothing lullabies for troubled adults: understated, deftly-played, swallowing the listener up in their narcotic embrace. Damon & Naomi’s music is sublime stuff, and a little goes a long way – indeed, perhaps 80 minutes of this muted mood music is a little overpowering to hear in one sitting – but this lovingly-sequenced and selected collection is the perfect introduction to their twilight world.