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coverpic flag US - Massachusetts - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 18 - 04/12/98

Damon and Naomi
Playback Singers
Sub Pop

A long time ago, in a solar system far, far away, three friends banded together to make music. Their goal - to record a single that might one day end up in the bargain bin - was refreshingly humble, their sound otherworldly and melodic. Though their music didn't catch on in their hometown scene, they transcended Boston's city limits to create pockets of fandom and influence in the burgeoning underground scenes of New York City, London and Japan.

Ten years later, Galaxie 500's dreamy sound has inspired many an indie-pop band, from Neutral Milk Hotel to Sugar Plant. Though the trio disbanded acrimoniously the year before "alternative music" was on everyone's lips, their presence can be felt through Rykodisc's beautiful reissues of their work, and through the bands its former members have pursued. While frontman and main songwriter Dean Wareham has started Luna, a Velvet Underground tribute band that plays its own songs, rhythm section Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang may be continuing the tradition that made Galaxie so unique and influential. Setting up shop as the acoustic duo Damon and Naomi, the two create beautiful music that weds G500's gauzy, somnambulistic sound to a stricter, more folksy song structure, creating something that's both familiar (especially to fans of the medieval folk tradition) and different from the three wonderful studio albums Galaxie recorded in its tenure.

With their latest release, Playback Singers, Damon and Naomi have created the album their previous releases have only hinted at. Like their previous recordings, More Sad Hits and The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi, the album is an aesthetically pleasing, emotional collection of plaintive songs about life, love and loss. However, the album seems to have found Damon and Naomi basking in a ray of sunlight.

Yes, that's right; Playback Singers could well be described as Damon & Naomi's happy album. True, "happy" could be a relative term for the duo. The album opens with a few mournful songs ostensibly about Galaxie 500's split; "I've been known to suffer over you," songwriter/guitarist Damon Krukowski sings in the album's opener, Turn of the Century, sensing that listeners in the know will assume this is another song about Dean Wareham. However, unlike most of the songs on this subject that dot their two previous recordings, the two seem to be looking at these feelings and wondering about their importance ten years later.

What truly defines Playback Singers as a more joyous affair than, say, More Sad Hits, is that Damon & Naomi seem to balance their sadness with songs ringing with true happiness. Their covers of Awake In A Muddle and Tom Rapp's Translucent Carriages radiate true joy, and the originals that populate the album's second half find the two sending postcards while on tour, rhapsodizing the architecture of old theatres, growing up, and embracing the present.

Damon & Naomi weather another evolution in their sound on Playback Singers, this one caused again by an artistic split. However, the decision to record the album in their home instead of having Shimmy-Disc head honcho Kramer was an amicable one, and one that best befits their sound. Though the songs on Wondrous World... were exemplary, listeners had to listen around the sonic gimmickry that made the album a more difficult affair than it had to be. On the other hand, Playback Singers was recorded on a four-track in Damon and Naomi's home in a simplicity that best befits this set of songs. While low-fi bands like Guided by Voices have given home recording a bad name, Playback Singers has a smooth, clear sound that would make many doubt this was recorded on a living room floor.

So. It's 1998, and Damon and Naomi, the two coolest summer-camp counselors who sang the most beautiful songs around the campfire, return to recorded music with Playback Singers, an emotionally-rich album that could easily serve as their declaration of musical independence. Hear it, and rejoice in it.

Playback Singers is scheduled to be released by Sub Pop on 7th April

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