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Velvet Sequel: Galaxie 500

Rykodisc reissues Galaxie 500

By Nicky Baxter

In the latter part of the '80s, there were two roads leading to success for Amerindie bands. One began in Athens, Ga., where the sleepy-eyed enigmaticism of R.E.M. had already spawned innumerable pretenders. The other path originated up north in the thrash-and-burn antics of big-city nonconformists like Hüsker Dü, the Pixies and the Replacements.

Boston's Galaxie 500, however, appeared to have arrived from another planet altogether, devising music that smoldered with intensity. Hotwiring early Velvet Underground to the space doodlings of the German band Can, the threesome emerged fully developed.

Regretfully, outside of the odd pop scribe and a few adventurous peers, no one seemed to notice that in Galaxie 500, stateside post-punk had the blueprint for a number of subgenres, including sadcore.

Copenhagen (Rykodisc), a concert caught on tape just months before Damon Krukowski, Dean Wareham and Naomi Yang parted ways (temporarily), and Galaxie 500 (also on Rykodisc), a four-CD set that brings together the band's previously released albums (and more), are timely reminders of an era when being "alternative" didn't automatically guarantee a big-label contract.

The latter collection is invaluable for rockophiles. In addition to Today (1988), On Fire (1989) and This Is Our Music (1990), Rykodisc sweetens the collection by adding a 14-track fourth disc full of previously unreleased cuts, alternative takes and early demos. Galaxie 500 is also enhanced with four video clips playable on multimedia compatible CD-ROMs.

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Info. about Damon and Naomi.

Rykodisc site on the band.

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Copenhagen offers live versions of such otherworldly gems as "Fourth of July," "When Will You Come Home" and fellow Bostonian Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste."

The album exhibits a textural diversity that would surprise even diehard Galaxie 500 fans. "Decomposing Trees," the opening number, commences with singer/guitarist Wareham's brittle strumming, followed by Yang's sonorous, melodic bass and Krukowski's rattlesnake-shake tambourine. But it's Wareham's somnolent yowling that gives you the goose bumps; his voice is one of rock's most idiosyncratic wonders. After a coolly languorous beginning, the tension in "Trees'" mounts almost imperceptibly; listen to how Wareham's taffy-like guitar solo undulates like a Saharan desert mirage, alternating between delicately picked notes and frazzled chordal strokes.

"Fourth of July" is the sort of skewed avant-garde pop the Velvet Underground trailblazed three decades ago. Primal Lou Reed-like guitar plays grouchy host to buoyant bass and the kind of tribal stomp swiped from Velvet's drummer Maureen Tucker.

Ironically, the band's rendition of V.U.'s "Here She Comes Now" is only vaguely reminiscent of the original, a tribute to Galaxie 500's perverse pop sense. Wareham replaces Reed's sinister sneer with the forlorn caterwaul of a man who has resigned himself to a world of girl trouble and perhaps derives a shiver of masochistic thrill from the torture.

The bad news is that Galaxie 500 imploded too early; the good news is that we have Copenhagen and Galaxie 500 to remind us of the group's fragile magic. Finally, under the aegis of Damon and Naomi (minus Wareham), the band's moodily atmospheric muse is still alive and shining brightly.

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