“Sweetness and light” doesn’t accurately describe the gloomily ethereal moods that emanate from the seemingly hermetic universe inhabited by Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang — “sweetness and dark” is more like it. After leaving Galaxie 500 at the dawn of the ’90s, the duo set out to build an entirely different superstructure atop the slowcore foundation they perfected as that band’s rhythm section-one based in expansive sonic washes rather than angular riffs, a backdrop that helps accentuate the impersonal yet affecting nature of their songs.
On the meaningfully titled More Sad Hits, bassist Yang and drummer/guitarist Krukowski — who share an affinity for watery, unfocused vocals — pass the mic back and forth with such ease that it’s tempting to simply float along on the wisps of melody. That would be a mistake, and not just because of the attention to detail that manifests itself in little ways (like the brass shadings coloring the hollow “Information Age,” which bemoans a lost love in decidedly cyber-era terms). Concentrating really pays off once you begin to break down the album’s unconventional blend of agit-prop gauntlet-throwing (like the Mao-quoting “Little Red Record Co.”) and vividly imagistic landscapes (“Boston’s Daily Temperature”) and reach its core of all-consuming melancholy. Kramer, who produced, is given equal credit with the headliners for instruments and vocals; his contributions include guitar, keyboards and drums. Cool cover: Soft Machine’s “Memories.”
Despite occasionally busy production (Kramer again), The Wondrous World casts off some of the debut’s studiocentric layering in favor of an engagingly organic, acoustic-guitar-dominated woodsiness. Originals like the forlorn campfire — make that dying-ember — singalong “In the Morning” are nicely bracketed by a well-chosen array of covers, including the Band’s “Whispering Pines” and “Who Am I,” a dirge originally recorded by Country Joe and the Fish. Admittedly, it takes some doing to penetrate Krukowski’s more oblique dissertations — -“The New Historicism” is every bit as bombastic as it sounds — but the prevailing tone is rustic enough to offset such post-mod affectations.