This is music for changing times, the soundtrack to the falling stock market, but also a call to make art.
The best records seem more relevant with each passing year. To wit, “Information Age”, the third song on Damon and Naomi’s 1992 debut LP, now reissued on the duo’s own label. It’s about how more computers does not make it any easier to figure out your emotions, how a high-speed Internet connection won’t save a relationship or help you make the right decisions about your life. The final verse feels especially pertinent these days:
All around us business fails
The times are hard – or so they say
But I don’t believe the Times
And I don’t believe the Globe
It’s spinning free enough
To choose your way to go
Choosing their way to go was exactly what the duo was doing in 1992. Not calculating a business move or planning a career, but quietly following their own path. It was their first album in the wake of their now-iconic first band, Galaxie 500. Damon and Naomi had previously released an EP, a tentative step towards making music on their own. ‘Starting a new band’ may have been done tentatively as well, but the truth is, instead of starting a new band, More Sad Hits represents them making music on their own for the first time: writing songs together, letting them be influenced by their tastes, no matter how esoteric or non-commercial. It's not about hitting the big time, it's about figuring out their own way to go. It’s significant that they chose their own names as the band name. According to the liner notes, it was a move suggested by producer Kramer, a friend from the Galaxie 500 days who was a guiding force on More Sad Hits, helping them realize their own artistic visions and also adding to them, recording their songs clearly, playing interesting lead guitar, and bringing in unusual instruments to play.
Those odd sounds are part of the album’s atmosphere, which is slightly eerie but not in an overly mannered way. The mood is melancholy, not one of overwhelming doom. This isn’t the sound of dreams collapsing forever, it’s moments of quiet contemplation during big life changes. It is bittersweet farewells and anxious questions about what’s next. The repeated lines at the end of the second song, “Little Red Record Co”, capture the album’s pondering of what’s around the corner and its climate of potential disaster -- “And when the bubble breaks / Will we fall too far / Will we fall in place / Or will it move us on?” There’s a dreamy strangeness to that song, from the repetition and whatever weird instrument does the otherworldly solo. That mood highlights the poetry of the lyric, heightens its effect.
More Sad Hits is filled with these powerful moments of longing and ambivalence from the synthesis of music, vocals, and lyrics, which all work together perfectly. The extended jam at the end of “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” is a pivotal moment of release. One of my favorite moments is Naomi Yang’s voice sounding especially ghostly on “Astrafiammante”, as she sings, “Will you call me from a phone in a burning field? / Sirens I hear scare me / Now that you’re gone.” Her voice is a transfixing presence throughout the album. In the opening song, “E.T.A.”, she seems both floating and grounded. It’s a startling introduction to the album’s bittersweet beauty. When Damon Krukowski joins in, his voice not singing counterpoint, but as an echo; the sound of Damon and Naomi is complete.
In truth, it’s a sound that wasn’t that distant from Galaxie 500, though they've grown further from it since. Luna is more often mentioned as heir to the Galaxie 500 legacy, since Dean Wareham was the frontman of both, but the atmosphere Galaxie 500 created is not forsaken here. This album claims that legacy just as often, maybe even more so, though it also represents them breaking off from the past, moving in their own direction. Much of the otherworldliness and emotional impact come from sounds and influences that Galaxie 500 never came close to. There are the hard-to-place instruments, sometimes vaguely old-World European; the cover of a Soft Machine song; the closing cover of a sentimental French ballad ("This Changing World"); the jazz drum solo used as a segue; the bits of opera worked into the texture of one song; another song that references Robert Wyatt; the soft psychedelia of the whole affair.
Since then, Damon and Naomi have evolved their ‘sad hits’ into something even more inclusive and international, yet at the same time more personal and idiosyncratic. They’ve explored sadness, an infinite theme, but in diverse ways and touching on various other ideas. More Sad Hits was the beginning of Krukowski and Yang’s career as the duo Damon and Naomi. It also was a remarkably gentle, sensitive, and thoughtful album for 1992, the year Nirvana hit the top of the charts, soon to usher in a legion of copycats. But More Sad Hits stands as more than just an important piece of history. It’s a riveting work, an exemplary fulfillment of the album format: atmospheric pop music with numerous moments that absolutely crystallize hard-to-define feelings. It’s comforting, sad music made for times of bad news. What music is better suited for today? As two musicians’ statements of independence, it’s also a call to make art in times of distress, to follow your own creative inclinations even within, or especially within, “this changing world”.