Jumping off a Chemical Imbalance flexidisc, Galaxie 500’s singsongy psychedelic “Oblivious” was so sweet and lo-fi that it might have been actual innocence instead of the Velvet Underground’s received ghost. Today, which features a rendition of Jonathan Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste,” confirmed it: this trio (based in New York but formed in Boston; all three are Harvard alumni) may sound as ragged and ambitious as your first guitar plugged into your first amp, but they had a way with dirge and seemed to mean every note. With plaints like “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,” Galaxie 500 made a virtue of lethargy. (The CD adds two.)
On Fire acknowledges a past master of mopery with an unsanctimonious cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.” This second release shapes out the spaces between Dean Wareham’s proto-strum and whine/wail, Naomi Yang’s exceptionally melodic bass lines (the band’s true emotional center) and Damon Krukowski’s economical drumming. Kramer (producer of the band’s entire output to date) throws in enough reverb and echo to nearly cover lyrics like “I stood in line and ate my Twinkie” beneath a fuzzy warm sonic blanket. Wareham’s lead guitar lines are clearer and more confident here and, with nice touches like saxophone on “Decomposing Trees,” the songs are immersion chambers of atmosphere.
This Is Our Music is slicker and features more dynamic crescendos — in places the trio sounds like a treble-free low-tech Feelies — but the melodies aren’t as engaging as on the first two discs. For the adventurous, there’s a feeling cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, the Snow Is Falling.” The EP reprises “Blue Thunder” from On Fire (with a sax part added) and features a powerful cover of New Order’s “Ceremony” as well as two other non-LP tracks.
In the years after Galaxie 500 disbanded, Wareham has been leading Luna. The rhythm section works in Magic Hour and as Damon and Naomi. In 1996, Rykodisc issued a box set of Galaxie 500’s complete works.