The Pitchfork camp just reviewed Damon & Naomi's album from last year... but hey, it's all relevant. D&N are currently touring Europe and the gloriously repackaged & remastered reissue of More Sad Hits will streets on July 15th.
Damon & Naomi
Within These Walls
500-- Damon Since 1992-- when they were best known as the rhythm section for the much-loved GalaxieKrukowski and Naomi Yang have occupied the kind of niche it's hard to imagine many new indie bands falling into: They make modest, sleepy, intimate folk records, one every few years, around tours and collaborations and running a small label and small press. They've found a pleasant nook and they keep to it, commanding just enough respect and attention to remain comfortably unbothered. Within These Walls-- reviewed here belatedly, and with apologies-- is the latest missive from that nook, and it's a bit difficult to wrap one's head around: It's the best-sounding Damon & Naomi release in a while, but it's also, somehow, less engaging than a lot of the duo's back catalog, a string of records that weren't hugely bothered with "engagement" in the first place.
The shift in sound is both gorgeous and timely. The current fashion in indie folk music, after all, is for the freak-- something dark, mysterious, and shot through with psychedelics, as if made by hairy, acid-damaged people in forests at night. It's a treat to hear these two shoot off in the opposite direction: Where previous records from them have been cozy to the point of small-room claustrophobia, this one is positively outdoorsy. The horns that murmur through "On the Aventine" conjure up open sky, either sun-filled or pleasantly gray; the production sparkles breezily, and makes you want to throw open your windows, take a short stroll. As background music, it's unimpeachably beautiful, warm and understated. There's a realism, space, and depth of field to the sound that's a very welcome respite from the compressed, blaring way most things are produced these days; it suits the band perfectly.
The album is at its best when that sound combines with the work of longtime D&N collaborator MichioKurihara, of the (more interesting) Japanese psych/folk group Ghost: His guitar leads, solos, and embellishments here are flat-out soaring. It's that fact, unfortunately, that underlines what's so problematic about Within These Walls. When Kurihara's playing, the album veers into terrific instrumental music, with that guitar confidently occupying center stage, holding the reins firmly; but when either Damon or Naomi are singing, things falter. Sometimes it's the lyrics, which read better on paper than they do on speakers; sometimes it's the melodies, which lilt pleasantly but never worm their way very far into one's head. But mostly, I suspect, it's the limitations of those two voices, both of which are smooth, clear, sedate, and close-miced-- tones that work well for fragile bedroom folk, but struggle to command the stage of these wide-open songs, especially when put up against the power of Kurihara's guitar.
This is strange, since so many Damon & Naomi albums have come off the other way: decent albums some of us are more inclined to like because they feature the right personalities, two people in a nook we like to check in on. Within These Walls feels like the opposite: a very good record weighed down by two personalities who can't quite command it-- like seeing television stars look suddenly awkward and meek on a movie screen. Which is a shame, because when you're not paying enough attention to this record to need a commanding center, it sounds absolutely marvelous.
-Nitsuh Abebe, June 25, 2008
06/25 Dublin, IRE @ Whelans (Upstairs)
06/26 Galway, IRE @ Roisin Dubh
06/27 Belfast, IRE @ Black Box
06/29 Toulouse, FR @ Les Siestes Electroniques Festival
06/30 Bordeaux, FR @ CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux (6:00 PM)
07/02 Paris, FR @ La Mecanique Ondulatoire