Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Few Kind Words About The Sublime New Record From Damon And Naomi

There comes a point on the new Damon and Naomi record where you realize how quiet it is. Fortune could very well be the most mellow album yet from these two and that's saying something 'cause they were in Galaxie 500.

I joke a bit there in the opening paragraph 'cause I know, from having met them in 2011, how unpretentious they are as people. That they manage to make music like this is a sort of miracle. And I say that because, in all seriousness, Fortune, out now from Damon and Naomi, is a sublime and beautiful record. It is an album that serves as a collection of tunes and as a soundtrack to a film by Naomi Yang herself. Following on from their last studio album proper, 2011's False Beats and True Hearts, the duo has turned things down and looked even more inwards. Introspective and contemplative, the 10 songs here are some of the most affecting ever recorded by this band.

But, more importantly, the record started as a film soundtrack. It's easier to explain its first purpose by offering a quote from the press material on the album from the band's website:

"The pair's latest project, Fortune, is an LP released in tandem with Naomi Yang's video piece of the same name. She refers to the work as 'a silent movie,' though the visuals are so bound up in the music (and vice versa) that it's more of a long-form music video, a visual poem set to the metronome of a textural score. She conceived of the piece to explore conflicting feelings surrounding her father's recent passing; Yang was suddenly burdened with a massive archive of his artistic work (her father was a photographer), as well as the ongoing aftermath of flawed parenting. Her use of the term "fortune," then, is tinged with sardonicism but also with nostalgia—portraits from the 1940s and '50s painted by protagonist Norman von Holtzendorff's father (also recently deceased, and who also left his archive in Norman's hands) feature prominently. An ongoing tarot card motif ties in another facet of the suddenly slippery term 'fortune,' using Damon and Naomi's now familiar brand of close, acoustic warmth to explore the past's bearing on the future..."

Well, okay then, but what of the songs? "Amnesia" features Damon's Nick Drake-like delivery and a fine, fine melody, while "It's Over" is a superb showcase of Naomi's clear soprano. Sounding more direct than at times in the past, this tune, and her delivery of it, are affecting. Rather than, as in the past, attempt to create a sort of mood, Damon and Naomi here seem to be seeing how little they can use to achieve so much. There are only a few pieces to the song -- simple elements of harmony and acoustic guitar patterns -- but the cut works perfectly and it is, clearly, one of the highlights of Fortune.

"Sky Memories" further plays with those elements to offer up something vaguely like an old Pentangle song, all near-classical figures and unadorned moments of clear, precise tunefulness. It is one of the finest songs the 2 have produced in quite some time.

There are many songs like that here on Fortune but special mention must be made of album closer "Time Won't Own Me" which, as its title would suggest, offers up an upbeat, uphill battle against the ravages of time. Paired with what we know about Naomi's film, it seems clear that it is meant to be a rejection of getting older, of age creeping up on you. Catchy, with excellent harmonies, the song expands upon what these 2 have done so well in the past as a duo and in Galaxie 500 and offers up -- however subtly -- something like a gentle anthem. Contrasted with the other 9 songs on Fortune, "Time Won't Own Me" stands out a bit.

Fortune is, in many ways, a throwback to the band's earlier stuff. It is deceptively simple, deeply touching, and quiet in a lot of places. It is also clear and direct. This is, like everything these 2 produce, something serious without a lot of pretense. With a minimum of artifice, Damon and Naomi have made some of their best music here.

Fortune, by Damon and Naomi, is out now and you can get more details via the band's official website.