With the release of the new Damon & Naomi album (and their seventh full-length release) "False Beats and True Hearts" set for release in just a few weeks, I'd like to start by going back to their debut offering "More Sad Hits"....Thanks for reading!
Damon and Naomi- More Sad Hits (1992)
Album Review by Nat Bourgon
May 1st, 2011
It would be reasonable, given its title, to assume that More Sad Hits, the 1992 debut offering from Damon & Naomi, is a real downer of a record. Yet, while there are moments that are drenched in sorrow, to label the record a funeral to the duo’s previous band Galaxy 500 would be to ignore the record’s positive spirit and energy. There is as much of a commitment to forward motion, and healing here, as there is a coming-to-terms with past uneasiness, pain, and tragedy. Krukowski and Yang are no strangers the dire and the bleak (the breakdown of Galaxy 500), but in spite of that, they thankfully manage to inject a dose optimism into the proceedings. The record is very philosophically engaging, as there is an ongoing dedication to showing both sides of the coin. For every moment of sadness, there is a moment of pure joy waiting in the wings.
More Sad Hits is a versatile record that is crawling with life; not a falsely all-rosy view of life, but rather an unfiltered, highly personal view of life that includes room for both mourning and celebration. This duality comes to the forefront on album highlight “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington”. For the song’s first two minutes, Damon Krukowski’s dreamy, soulful vocals lead the listener through a sleepy, laid back, dream-like sequence. Every past indicator suggests that the dreamy track is used as a reprieve of sorts from the surrounding tracks’ more fragile, and emotionally-on-edge mood. Yet, what sets Damon & Naomi’s music apart from the pack is that said assumption would be deeply flawed. The ferocious, squeeling guitars that dominate the song’s second half unleash a storm so powerful that it rudely, without warning, awakens us from the lazy, hazy dream, and exclaims loud and clear not only that the fantasy trip is over, but also that what Damon & Naomi do is far more complex and unique than our first impression might lead us to believe. The band’s decision to rip Krukowki’s hearty vocals away from the listener, as the song nears it rambunctious conclusion is strangely satisfying, as it gives the conclusion an eerie and foreboding layer. It is as if Krukowski and Yang want to offer a warning: Don’t get too comfortable. Change is inevitable, especially when you least expect it.
The record’s continual insistence on open-mindedness and the duality of life blossoms once again on “Information Age”, a Damon & Naomi classic. Clocking in at just under three minutes, the tune finds the band seemingly firing on all cylinders. “Information Age” finds Krukowski and Yang’s voices intertwined in blessed harmony, aided by some gorgeous production from Kramer, and some heartwrenching lyrics like “you and me/our eyes will never meet again/we’re not the same”, which sounds like words and emotions that could have been felt by the duo in the aftermath of the demise of Galaxy 500. When Yang conjures up visions of “computers crashing all around us’, she only provides a small hint at the tune’s surprising grand finale; a wall of unsettling sounds that emerge as an expression of sensory overload. Disclaimer: it is within the realm of probability that the song’s ending will sound like a bunch of computers experiencing mayday. A critic might argue that this sensory overload is annoying, and that it ventures into the camp of an excessive un-necessity. Yet, this critic would be missing the whole point: Damon & Naomi are much more interesting as a result of their ongoing determination to subvert expectations of their listeners, and forge ahead with the unexpected. The sensory overload is better thought of as a motif, illustrating the highs and lows of communication in relationships. “Information Age” is Damon & Naomi’s way of acknowledging that human to human communication is tricky business; that communication can run into barriers and crash at any time just like computers. That More Sad Hits contains moments that follow which reveal and showcase the aftermath of a communication breakdown, only makes the concept, appeal and allure of the record as a whole, that much more exciting.
More Sad Hits is the first full length withYang and Krukowski handling all the lead vocals solely between the two of them, and throughout the record, any vocal growing pains are successfully offset by the duo’s infectious energy in their instrumentation and songwriting. The duo’s vocals are often treated as just another instrument to enhance their already-solid songs – it is not necessary for their vocals to always be put up front in the mix. The vocals tend to act as a counterpart to the instrumentation – when the music is more upbeat and pulsing, the vocals tend to be darker and more maudlin in tone and feel. Although there are exceptions on the disc, songs where Yang takes the lead vocal (such as Laika, and Astrafiammante) tend to be more melancholic in nature, while the music/vocals on Krukowski-fronted tunes (especially Boston's Daily Temperature and Once More) are generally a bit more livelier and chipper.
Mid-album centerpiece Astrafiammante brings Naomi Yang’s breathy, delicate vocals to the forefront, combined with some nice gentle, folky acoustic guitar strumming from Krukowski. In her vocal delivery on Astrafiammante, Yang’s musings sound terrified here, as if she got a grasp on her true feelings, but appears scared of forging ahead to communicate her feelings, even as she knows how worthwhile it is to do so. Fear, anxiety and love are all evident in Yang’s voice, when she sings the lyrics “are you near me/is the earth that small/but you keep on driving/and stay where you are”. Lyrically, Astrofiammante nicely emphasizes our complex relationship with communication. Coming to terms with our own feelings is tough enough; to express these important feelings out loud to another human being is even tougher. Once these feelings are verbalized, they are not only out there, but they become much more real. When a feeling becomes much more real, we then must deal with the impending implications and consequences that arise as a result of those feelings. In Astrafiammante, Yang whips up a stew of communication, and is unafraid to showcase its ingredients: fear, anxiety, tension and confusion on the one side, but also self-worth, love, understanding, respect and reward on the other.
Lyrically, Krukowski and Yang have an unwavering dedication to honesty about their past, present and future, which increases the intimacy of the record, and highlights the significance and validity of the relationship between love and honesty. More Sad Hits is not a record singularly oncerned with mourning about the past; it is also interested in yearning for a better tomorrow. By the end of the last song, listeners are most likely to hold onto, and remember the radiant hope in the album’s closer “This Changing World”. Yang offers that “my love stays the same forever/in this world/this changing world”. The world has changed a lot in the 19 years since the album’s 1992 release. Yet, in More Sad Hits Damon & Naomi have crafted a work of art that is highly personal, honest, and original, and one that holds up quite well. This masterful, enthralling work can speak to your soul, mind and heart if you are willing to spend some time with it. More Sad Hits is more than an album---it is a philosophical attitude that will challenge and provoke the listener, and a musical journey that is beautiful and surprising…the only thing that it is steady at is its ability to captivate.