PRINT February 1997


Galaxie 500

So, a few years ago I’m at Wasteland in LA and I hear this fantastic music: sort of a dense mix of trance, overripe pop, sonic hooks, and incompetence. Yum. I ask the deeply cool cashier, “What’s playing?” He replies, numbly, “GALAXIE 500.” Oh, okay. So I’m thinking, I’ve got to get some of this stuff. Forget it. You can’t get it anywhere, because Galaxie 500 were already out of business. They were history, and their sounds had entered the fetish phase of the alt. music universe: a rare and pricey cult product. But one morning, in a tiny London record store, my search is rewarded. Sure enough, under the G file, a CD of This Is Our Music at a bargain basement price. Very cool. I bring it home and play it over and over. I make a tape and pop it into my car. Canyons, streets, and skies float by, veneered by Dean Wareham’s deadpan vocals and Naomi Yang’s and Damon Krukowski’s gorgeously rhythmic drone. A computer-whiz friend hears it, confesses to being a major fan, and makes me a tape of G500’s 1988 Today. When I mention the band to a film producer I know, he smiles wryly, says he went to school with them, and gives me an early demo tape. So I thought I had almost everything, right? Wrong. Until now, that is. Because now we’ve got the apex of Galaxie 500isms: the Box Set. Lushly designed by Yang (who was responsible for most of the band’s paper trail, from posters to album and CD covers), it’s not only a compelling chronicle of a powerful sonic project, but also a poignant story of a young band that called it quits just before it became a piece of cult history. From 1987 to ’91, Krukowski, Yang, and Wareham, along with their producer, Kramer, created a gorgeous train wreck of slow-mo hooks, cloying trills, and majestic reverb. In tunes like “Temperature’s Rising” and “Fourth of July,” G500 traffic in the tricky zone where full-throttle drone meets demi-saccharine pop hookery and connects the band’s arcane, spacey stuff with the ironic anthems of Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain,” the Flaming Lips’ “Be My Head,” Guided by Voices’ “I Am a Scientist,” and Imperial Teen’s “Butch.” Galaxie 500 inflated lean minimalism into monstrous walls of sound and collapsed them on top of the most elemental pop syrup. And it worked. And then it was over. But not really. Because we can still listen to this great stuff and be reminded of the grueling fickleness and style wars of the music subcultures: where today’s divinities become yesterday’s papers in the blink of a blind eye. Maybe Galaxie 500 just quit while they were ahead.

Barbara Kruger