Galaxie 500 | REWIG71 | Released: 22/03/10

Image: this is our music packshot


Chris Roberts

As Oscar Wilde once said, among many lovably smart-ass things he said, “He who stands most remote from his age is he who mirrors it best.” Galaxie 500 purred at a time when others were shouting. Things were different then. “Indie” or “alternative” music really was a minority taste, and a different colour and texture to the music flooding the mainstream. This was their music. “Slowcore,” “dream pop,” call it what you will, it was sleepy yet somehow buzzing. Cool, yet somehow trembling with anticipation. Laid-back, yet brimming with the minute emotions and implosions of the everyday inner life.

So they stole the title, from a 1960 Ornette Coleman masterpiece. A successful heist is all about the attitude. Galaxie 500, named after a car, never raced. They let the world, or the more discerning components, come to them. They met in New York, improved at Harvard University, and became known as a Boston band. It was to be, as nobody had predicted, a golden age for Boston bands. With Kramer producing alchemically, they made Today and On Fire, drowned in rave reviews (at least in the UK), found themselves compared to the Velvet Underground and Jonathan Richman and New Order. This Is Our Music, the third album, came in 1991, after Dean Wareham had moved back to New York. After much touring, he left the trio, whose last European show was released as a swansong live album, Copenhagen. See if you can guess in which Danish city that took place.

The members of Galaxie 500 went on to do further stirring and lovely things in music afterwards, but their legacy had already begun. The influence of these sounds spans far and wide to this day. It’s about restraint, delay, poise. Galaxie 500 records are as rough as sandpaper yet as elegant as jewellery. There’s a happy, maybe lucky blend between Dean’s so-wrong-yet-so-right voice and his deceptively brilliant guitar, between Damon’s minimal yet mesmerising rhythms and Naomi’s loping, groping bass. They’re gentle yet diamond-hard, sweet yet capable of savagery.

From the opening intro drone of the exquisite ‘Fourth Of July,’ This Is Our Music asserts its sparkle and self-sufficiency. There are ebbs and flows within every Galaxie 500 track and the magic is that you can never quite pin down the moments when a surge begins, when a retreat occurs. We’re hearing shards and trills of Verlaine-esque guitars, a pace stately yet seductive. We’re writing “a poem on a dog biscuit,” evidently, and even if the dog refuses to look at it, we’re hooked on a mystery. We’re getting drunk and looking at the Empire State Building, which is “no bigger than a nickel.” It’s evocative, a fresh twist on classic Manhattan lore, and for we Brits that makes for a head-full of Warhol imagery, from Edie to Lou, from grids to rooftops. There’s a lazy, languid air of almost accidental romance. “Maybe I should just change my style/But I feel all right when you smile...” Their music is both relaxed and relentless.

There are echoes, psalms, clinches. On the centrepiece, ‘Summertime,’ they are “just delicious.” How this track builds and falls and builds again. It’s a sea, a shapeshifter. There’s a kind of brittle faith and hope in Naomi’s vocal on Yoko Ono’s ‘Listen, The Snow Is Falling.’ On ‘Melt Away’ we warm our hands on a glow. ‘King Of Spain, Part Two’ brings us around and tells us all good things are timeless.

This Is Our Music was out of time and in its zone and so now sounds as timeless as birth and death and beauty. It’s just three people with guitars and bass and drums, going “doo doo doo wah.” This is deferred gratification.