Damon & Naomi: Playback Singers

Damon & Naomi
Playback Singers
Sub Pop

DAMON & NAOMI are Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, recent newlyweds who entered the music world in the '80s as the rhythm section for the most arch of '80s indie bands, Galaxie 500. By the '90s, the Galaxie had run out of gas, and ego-tripping frontman Dean Wareham had gone on to attain moderate commercial success, and occasional alt-pop blandness, with Luna. But where Luna trafficks a poppy version of the same Velvets retreads that powered Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi's work digs deeper, exploring melancholic folk through sleepy tunes and ethereal vocals.

Their new album, Playback Singers, is a bona fide mopefest, brimming with dragging tempos, weeping guitars, and lyrics such as "It's so hard being me." Yet this effort is different from earlier, equally somber work, thanks mainly to the absence of indie-rock production guru Kramer, who blanketed the group's first two albums with lush studio effects. Playback Singers was recorded in Damon & Naomi's Cambridge, Massachusetts, attic and it employs a droning harmonium along with acoustic guitars and light percussion. It's a sparse project, dominated by singing, not sound. This feel is made flesh when Yang wraps her otherworldly, high-pitched voice around hymn-like melodies in "Eye of the Storm" or "Awake in a Muddle." Krukowski's wobbly, feminine singing takes more getting used to, but it becomes endearing when one considers how similar his voice's texture is to Yang's. Like the Richard and Linda Thompson of I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Damon & Naomi demonstrate a bond that obviously continues to exist after they turn the tape recorder off.

Of course, the Thompsons' last masterpiece, 1982's Shoot Out the Lights, came in the midst of their divorce, proving once and for all that woeful folk prospers through pain. That album's cover art depicted Richard sitting underneath a framed photo of Linda. The only band photo in Playback Singers shows the newlyweds meshed together as one. And this sentiment resonates throughout the album (particularly in "The Navigator" and "I'm Yours"), and one can't help but wonder what made these soulmates so damn morose in the first place.

By the same token, anyone who discovers Playback Singers' pleasures should relish the fact that these rock 'n' roll marriages never last. Maybe Damon & Naomi have a Shoot Out the Lights in them yet.

 
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