Galaxie 500 On Fire

[Rough Trade; 1988]

Styles: dream-pop, shoegaze
Others: Luna, Yo La Tengo, Damon and Naomi, Slowdive


Like a first kiss or long weekend, Galaxie 500 was one of those islands in the increasingly rough sea of the 80s underground you never wanted to end. Led by Dean Wareham's distinctively "wussy" delivery, ephemeral guitar leads, and ironically forlorn lyrics, the first non-surf band to be named after a classic car snuck into the alternative rock scene as Harvard students in the mid-80s. A three-piece rounded out by bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski. The tale of Galaxie 500 was punctuated in much the same fashion as that of the Velvet Underground, whom they were so often
compared to; amidst limited American success (despite swelling British interest), the lead man left the band, leaving behind the simple innocence of the 80s for another project more in step with the times.

Before that, though, Galaxie 500 were regulars on the alternative circuit, navigating back and forth between New York, Boston, and the U.K., where they were signed with Rough Trade. In truth, there wasn't much variance in three albums of Galaxie 500 cuts. Though with their half-time three-chord structures leading to blistering reverb-drenched cascades, they were hypnotizing their audience so successfully that no one seemed too worried.

Perhaps due to their uniformity, a distinctive Galaxie 500 'classic' album doesn't  jump out and smack anyone. With their second offering On Fire, though, they achieved perhaps their greatest balance between the fragile, down-tempo and bombastic finales that would inform the forthcoming shoegaze onslaught in Britian a year later.

The album contains two of the most memorable Galaxie melodies with "Blue Thunder" and "Snowstorm." Recording is also the most embellished here, as they involve saxophone and organ ('cheap' organ, to be sure) for the first time. The especially entrancing "Another Day," with Yang's vocals, also calls into question the identity of the band playing the track.

Like the music, the atmosphere surrounding the production of the album was steeped in 'mellow.' Most of the recording was done live with only limited overdubbing. Sometimes Wareham would squeak out a falsetto, or his amp would feed back in an uncomfortable manner, but that was how they liked it. No one else may have appreciated it, but they were making the music they liked. Far be it for me to introduce the word.

1. Blue Thunder
2. Tell Me
3. Snowstorm
4. Strange
5. When Will You Come Home
6. Decomposing Trees
7. Another Day
8. Leave The Planet
9. Plastic Birds
10. Isn't It A Pity

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