Thursday, December 24, 2009

Galaxie 500 - "Today" (LP Review)

Prior to discovering The Cribs 3-4 years ago, Galaxie 500 was my favorite lo-fi, garage-rock band. And while the two bands are not directly comparable, Galaxie 500 remains a close second.

Active from 1987-1991 (corresponding exactly with my college years), I did not discover Galaxie 500 until about 1999 or 2000. Despite not knowing about the band while I was in school, their sound so perfectly captures the sound of the era that it invokes nostalgia for the late 80's, even though I learned of them nearly 10 years later.

Formed by Dean Wareham (guitar, vocals), Damon Krukowski (drums), and Naomi Yang (bass, vocals) while all three were at Harvard, the band took their name from the Ford Galaxie owned by one of their friends. The magic of their sound is not virtuoso performances (though they are certainly more than adequate), but through excellent song writing and hazy, dreamy production quality. Similar to but generally softer and quieter than most shoegazing bands, their sound invites the inevitable comparisons to The Velvet Underground. Although on one hand, their sound is very much of their time, on the other hand they sound nothing like the stable of 4AD artists, nor the Athens, GA sound. By default, they become the Cambridge, MA sound. Credit to producer Mark Kramer for generating such a unique sound.

"Today" is the band's first LP, released in 1988 after their "Tugboat" 7" single from earlier that year. While many critics consider their 2nd LP, "On Fire", to be their best, I have to give the nod to "Today" since 1) it establishes their sound and 2) has no false steps -- every song is a gem, even the aptly named "Instrumental". The LP was initially released on the tiny Aurora Records, but was later re-released by Rough Trade, and then ultimately re-released by Rykodisc. Although the original release had only 9 songs, both re-releases have the B-side to the "Tugboat" single, "King of Spain", on them.

"Tugboat" is a fitting song to discuss, since it was their first single and may actually be their most representative, if not best song. The song features sparse, reverberating, haunting sound, with distant, and almost apologetic vocals from Wareham with the lyrics:
I don't wanna stay at your party
I don't wanna talk with your friends
I don't wanna vote for your president
I just wanna be your tugboat captain
It's a place I'd like to be
It's a place I'd like to be
It's a place I'd like to be
It's a place I'd be happy
After repeating the above, the the song closes out with an extended instrumental portion. After admitting "I just wanna be your tugboat captain", there's really nothing left to say. While Galaxie 500 has many, many excellent songs, this has to be their definitive song.

Standout tracks: All. Sure, that's a cop out, but just listen to the entire LP.  If forced to select just a few, I'd settle on: "Tugboat" (studio, live 1989 - from their "'87-'91" DVD), "Flowers" (studio, live -- from their "Peel Sessions" LP, live 1990 from "'87-'91"), "Pictures" , "Parking Lot", "Temperature's Rising".

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final score: 10/10

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