Although some still may mourn the short life and abrupt passing of Galaxie 500 – with last year’s back catalogue reissues no doubt exacerbating such feelings – it’s arguable that the split was ultimately creatively beneficial to the threesome in their subsequent creative roles. Hence Dean Wareham was able to take his distinctive tones, gifted guitar-playing and adaptable songwriting from the divorce to form Luna and build a subsequent art-pop duo with Britta Phillips, whilst Damon Krukowksi and Naomi Yang retained the band’s predilection for higher-register vocals, ethereal atmospherics and less traditional musicality for redeployment and expansion as a conjoined two-headed enterprise.
Certainly though, Damon & Naomi’s post-Galaxie endeavours have been less openly assessed and recognised than Wareham’s, even though a rich seven album run has already marked the married couple out as commendably uncorrupted and stoically independent. But such strong characteristics have also upheld daunting barriers. So it’s not been easy to visit their world without feeling overwhelmed in knowing where to start, with the absence of certain albums that emphatically demand more attention than others. They’ve come close before though – with 1992’s recently reissued duo debut More Sad Hits, 1998’s elegantly intimate Playback Singers and 2005’s elaborately orchestrated The Earth Is Blue – in nailing down the essence of what can make them so captivating. This latest and eighth LP can be added to that list of Damon & Naomi albums that almost act as defining standalone statements.
“Walking Backwards” – the opening track and preceding single – will undoubtedly help make False Beats And True Hearts seem like a place to point both the novice and the misplaced older fan. Being possibly the most unrepentant and hook-laden Galaxie 500-like torch anthem in their canon, the song fuses lush layered harmonies to psychedelic guitar soloing – from returning and well-used guest string-bender Michio Kurihara of Ghost – to rapturous and memorable effect. In its wake, the long-player takes on a more relaxed but still inviting approach, with the duo playing to their individual and combined strengths.
Following on from the greater openness and directness explored on 2007’s Within These Walls, Naomi in particular puts greater presence into her still unmistakably gossamer tracks. Seemingly taking some cues from Sandy Denny and Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee, it’s hard not to detect a slowed-down British pastoral essence in the gauzy mix of her songs, notably on the gradually swelling “And You Are There,” the beatifically wintry “Embers” and the blissfully serene “Shadow Boxing.” Damon – never a forceful performer either – finds more space to stretch himself out into, with the jazz-fringed folk of the opulent “Ophelia” being especially ear-catching. Twined together inside the relatively dark husk of “Helsinki” and on the yearning strung-out “What She Brings,” the duo also draw positive comparisons with the vocal symbiosis of Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.
Collectively the nine songs that make up False Beats And True Hearts don’t stray demonstratively from the path that Damon & Naomi have followed near-religiously since being coaxed into cutting More Sad Hits, but its subtly refreshed vocal shifts, balmy inviting arrangements, blur of rural-meets-urban asthetics and a clutch of mesmeric moments make it a record that could one day be considered as a true keeper in the couple’s discography.