Damon & Naomi Within These Walls

[20/20/20; 2007]

Styles: dreamy indie pop
Others: Galaxie 500, Ghost, Luna, Dean & Britta

Michio Kurihara may be the world’s most adept collaborator. The now nearly legendary Ghost guitar player recently lent his skills to fellow collab-holics Boris, helping to bring forth the magnificent Rainbow. With Within These Walls, Kurihara returns, contributing even more mind-bending guitars to a resolutely solid Damon & Naomi album. After four releases with the duo, one wonders whether they’ll ever officially ask him to join the band. (Alas, Damon & Naomi & Michio is kind of a mouthful.)

Honestly, it’s hard to write something new about Damon & Naomi. They resurface every few years with a similarly gorgeous collection of quiet, ethereal, and introspective songs. Like their erstwhile (just how many years “erstwhile” makes me feel old) Galaxie 500 bandmate Dean Wareham’s Luna, their albums are consistently good but always bear strong resemblances to the band’s back catalog. And while constantly-evolving bands like Animal Collective and, well, Boris, are more captivating even in their missteps, there is something comforting about consistency.

Naomi Yang is as compelling as ever. Her voice is imbued with a confident, dramatic, storytelling quality rare in contemporary singers. She is deliberate; her pauses are as expressive as her singing. On “The Well,” which admittedly suffers from the kind of shallow lyrics that chip away at Damon & Naomi’s aural perfection, she sounds like a country chanteuse, her voice wrapping around twangy instrumentals. The album closes with “Cruel Queen,” a dreamy reimagining of the traditional song “The Trees They Do Grow High,” and Naomi effectively channels a less bizarre Joanna Newsom.

What separates Within These Walls from the anonymous abyss of dream-pop is Kurihara. His plaintive but distorted, perfectly picked guitar enlivens the otherwise tranquil “Defibrilation,” just like the firing neurons and electrical currents that form the song’s central metaphors. On the next track, “Stars Never Fade,” it provides sharpness and pathos to a remarkably un-clichéd critique of apparent transcendence.

Within These Walls isn’t the kind of album that commands obsessive, repeated plays upon initial discovery. It will, however, stick around for those rainy afternoons that necessitate a book, a cup of tea, and a warm, expansive sonic backdrop, when you don’t quite know whether you’re feeling comfortable or sad.

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