The cover of Damon & Naomi: The Sub Pop Years is framed like a Polaroid, and the image itself — a bluish superimposition of Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang — reads like an unfinished double exposure on old film, the pair caught mid bloom.
FOREGROUNDING: “You listen to these records,” says Damon of The Sub Pop Years, “and it’s sort of like us coming out of the mist.”
Regardless of what was intended, the shot is a fitting expression of what this collection — far more than a bouquet of hits — documents. Those Sub Pop years (1995–2002) weren’t merely an arc of recovery period from the nasty 1991 break-up of Galaxie 500 — they also witnessed a prolonged foregrounding of the two. You don’t get much farther back on the proverbial stage than the rhythm section of a dream-pop act, so their gradual inching to the forefront of their music — as well as the way it just keeps getting more beautiful, more erudite, and more luminous — was no short journey.
“It was a long transition from being at the back to coming to the front — and for that to be okay,” laughs Yang. “We were very reluctant to stop being a rhythm section. When we first started playing as a duo, I remember feeling like, ‘Sorry! Just ignore us! We’ll be done soon!’ ”
“You listen to these records,” adds Krukowski, “and it’s sort of like us coming out of the mist.”
He could mean that in a few ways. After the split with Dean Wareham, the two just “stopped — stopped trying to be in a band, and stopped hanging out with other bands,” according to the liner notes of More Sad Hits — an album produced (and mixed) in 1992 by their right-hand svengali, Mark Kramer, and originally released on his Shimmy Disc label. If releasing an album seems like a strange way to stop being a band, think of More Sad Hits as a flushing of the gutters (only far prettier than that image suggests). The sounds were largely Galaxie-inspired, the content was largely Galaxie-concerned, the tone, the recording, the songwriting — it all swirled into a kind of mist that obscured them with unwitting nostalgia. If anything, the comp finds them reinterpreting this uncertainty into something more promising, like possibility.
“It was daunting to go back to those records,” Krukowski says of the four Sub Pop releases from which they culled this collection. “The process became this interesting encounter with what our songs were about.”
The other mist in question might simply be sonic. Three years after More Sad Hits, Damon & Naomi debuted on Sub Pop with The Wondrous World Of . . . — another Kramer production, and a rather tense one (since he had just kicked the weed). That record had them performing as a duo for the first time — an experience that made them a bit more protective of their budding ideas. The following albums — right up to their most recent effort, 2007’s Within These Walls (20|20|20) — have been recorded in their Cambridge apartment, with ever increasing fidelity. The 1998 Playback Singers was an eight-track bedroom affair. Their 2000 collaboration Damon & Naomi with Ghost was a 16-track hootenanny, as they hosted the Japanese group through the sessions. They’ve since worked with a seriously unshabby 24-track home studio — and, it would seem, very understanding neighbors.