Thursday, November 12, 2009

Galaxie 500 - Today (Aurora, 1988/Rough Trade, 1991/Rykodisc, 1997)

Like many college students seeking a respite from exhaustive studies, Dean Wareham (guitar, vocals), Damon Krukowski (drums) and Naomi Yang (bass) spent their formative years at Harvard University playing sloppy punk rock to drunk undergraduates. Conan O' Brien -- who'd dabbled in percussion long before enlisting E. Street drummer Max Weinberg to keep time for his late-night talk fest -- offered Krukowski the gently-used kit. Although Galaxie 500's light 'n' airy sound led many in the Boston scene to tag the group as "wimps," local radio grew fond of their demo tape. With producer Mark Kramer at the helm, the band realized a goal when the "Tugboat" b/w "King Of Spain" 45 hit the racks in 1988. Treating the vocals with tons of reverb and delivering the instrumentation in a soft-but-loud dynamic, Galaxie 500's A-side was an addictive slab of mopishness on par with the best of The Smiths. The words were simplistic ("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"), but the strum 'n' jangle and hypnotic traces proved irresistible to devotees of The Velvet Underground and Spacemen 3. On the flip, "King Of Spain" conveyed a state of dementia which ran counter to the gentle bed of musicianship.

Despite critical praise generated by the 45, only Slash stepped up to the plate in Galaxie 500's attempt to land a U.S. record deal. The label double-backed when the band adamantly refused to add a light show to the live set. Returning to their old home, Today was released in '88 on Aurora to well-deserved accolades. Three years later, Rough Trade reissued the album shortly before declaring bankruptcy. The band who'd caught nary a break severed when Wareham left to form Luna. Krukowski and Yang gained control of Galaxie 500's catalog by acquiring the masters at auction. Today saw a re-release in 1997 on Rykodisc. What Thurston Moore called his "favorite guitar record of 1988" would soon influence a new crop of noisemakers.

Besides the attendant cuts from the 45, Today flashes eight glimpses of VU-inspired beauty with the rough edges left intact. "Instrumental" is perhaps the best-known Galaxie tune, due to its placement in an Acura commercial. The free-form exhibition could've been performed by Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker at a Max's Kansas City after-party circa 1971. "Flowers" smell like they've been picked from a mental institution's gift shop. The seeds of lunacy and schizophrenia germinate in a climate-controlled greenhouse filled with mysterious whispers. If you're "Oblivious" to a love interest, he or she might crash a 1960s Ford in a driving rainstorm of indifference and lies. Thus, please invite your beau inside for an evening of bed activities and beverages. Polaroid has announced a halt on the production of instant cameras, so be hasty on snapping mental "Pictures" of colorful wishes involving the person closest to your heart. A Morse code transcription of Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste" brings back "memories to rival Berlin in the '30s." When played backwards, the message says, "Fall Out Boy will be blamed for the fallout." Take shelter, Ashlee Simpson. Sometimes, you just wanna hang out in a "Parking Lot" to watch people fall apart. That's fine. However, your tingling fingers and shaking hands are the results of chemically-induced behavior. Whenever the "Temperature's Rising," call Mo Tucker at Wal-Mart and ask her for a cocktail of methadone and Sam's Choice cola. You should come down in no time. There's one more song to talk about, but "It's Getting Late."

Saying much more would be as dangerous as a blindfolded Nico pedaling a unicycle, so I'll leave you with this Galaxie 500 lyrical aside: "I'm hyperventilating."
- Gunther 8544

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