Galaxie Box Whole Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Galaxie 500, the late '80s Boston indie-pop trio that eventually spawned

the burgeoning Luna and the small-time duo of Damon and Naomi, certainly

have an intriguing story to tell. Singer and guitarist Dean Wareham,

drummer Damon Krukowski, and bassist Naomi Yang all went to high school,

and then to Harvard together.

At Harvard, Wareham and Krukowski, Velvet Underground freaks both, decided

to try their hand at forming a band; when they had trouble finding an

appropriate bassist, Yang (who was, and continues to be, romantically

linked to Krukowski) announced she would pick it up. Before long, the trio

had hooked up with Kramer, an underground New York producer and prodigious

pot smoker, who before long became the band's unofficial fourth member,

using heavy reverb to solidify the band's washing, layered sound in the

studio and accompanying the band on the road whenever they could pay his

way.

Three albums later, the band had carved out an niche for itself in the

indie market, and seemed headed for larger success; however, poised at the

brink, Wareham announced he wanted out, much to Krukowski's and Yang's

surprise. Wareham went on to form Luna, which picked up where G500 left

off, and inked a major-label deal; Krukowski and Yang continued to pick up

the odd teaching job at Harvard, and, for a while, played together as a

duo. End of story. Right?

Wrong. With box sets and reissues gaining an ever-larger slice of the

CD-market pie, Rykodisc has decided to release a four-disc box set, one

more CD than the band ever cut while active, a mere six years after the

demise of the band. Not that aesthetically, there's anything lacking in

the set: Yang, who has always had an interest in design, helped put

together the box, which is marked by an omnipresent deep, melancholy blue;

all the members of the band, along with Kramer, contributed gossipy

essays; and outtakes and alternate cuts are included along with the

pre-existing G500 cuts, which were in themselves extremely difficult to

track down.

For devotees of the particular sound that became the band's trademark, the

simply titled Galaxie 500 is an unquestionable treat. When the trio

released Today in 1988, while their musicianship might have been a

little rough around the edges, their formula was already firmly in place.

"Tugboat," the band's first single, already features Wareham's impossibly

high, plaintive vocals (Kramer often sped up the tape in order to

artificially help Wareham hit the really high notes), the drawn out, moody

guitar lines, and the waves of overdubs that would become the band's

trademark. And, cleaned up and repackaged, the G500 sounds cleaner, and is

easier to get ahold of, than ever before.

The release of this set, however, begs an obvious question: does anyone

actually want four-CDs of very similar, albeit catchy music (never

mind the question of whether they want to try and swallow it all at once)?

The answer, I suspect, is probably not. While I, before this set was

released, cherished my worn cassette of the band's swan song, 1990's

This Is Our Music, listening to its atmospheric yearnings on long

car-drives and late at night, four CDs is, at least for me, overkill.

While each disc contains a couple of gems (like "Tugboat," or the

Rutles/Beatles tune "Cheese and Onions" on the set's fourth CD,

Uncollected Galaxie 500, or the several Pere Ubu covers and the

tongue-in-cheek medley of the Beatles' "Rain" and Jonathan Richman's

"Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste," all of which are well worth a decent

listen), overall I would have been much happier being able to select and

choose single-album reissues.

By choosing instead to release virtually every song G500 ever set to tape,

you're forced to make an all-or-nothing choice. And while the gorgeous

box, the CD-ROM video clips that are on each disc, and the personal

reminiscences are certainly nice to have, they still don't offset the fact

that four-hours of Galaxie 500 might be a little more than even the

mopiest music fan might want to listen to. (Galaxie 500, like Luna, has

often been traced in lineage to the Velvet Underground; however, G500

focused on the softer, moodier side of VU--think "Candy Says" or "Jesus"

--while Luna is much more upbeat, much poppier. Luna fans would be well

advised to make sure they have heard some G500 before they buy this set.

While both bands are centered around Wareham's guitar and vocals, liking

Luna does not guarantee this set will bring you listening pleasure. If you

like Luna and The Smiths, well then, that's a different story.)

Not to say that there aren't pieces on each disc that don't make me

happy...it's more a sense that I would have rather had the freedom to pick

and choose, to always have the feeling that there might be some great G500

stuff out there that I haven't picked up, instead of feeling that I have

more of their material than I would ever really want.