erasing clouds

Damon and Naomi with Kurihara, Song to the Siren

reviewed by Dave Heaton

Music writers tend to look toward Luna as the successor of the legendary atmospheric pop group Galaxie 500, I suppose because of the odd but constant tendency to associate a group's singer with the group more than its other members. Less attention is paid Damon and Naomi, even though both of its members were part of Galaxie 500, and the music that they are playing--a magical form of folk-pop--has more in common with Galaxie 500, in terms of mood and feeling, than Luna has.

Damon and Naomi's music conjures up beauty and mystery in swirling patterns of sound and voice. Each of their albums is absolutely transfixing, casting some kind of spell that's hard to define. And as it's always a pleasure to see musicians you love end up creating music together, their recent collaborations with the Japanese psych-folk band Ghost have been wonderful. Their latest release, Song to the Siren, continues that relationship. Featuring Damon and Naomi with Kurihara, Ghost's guitarist, this live release documents a tour they did together. And while the first disc of Song to the Siren wonderfully captures a performance in San Sebastian, Spain, the second disc is a great surprise, a DVD Tour Diary created by Naomi Yang, with camera work from various people they met during the tour. These two discs together (at more or less the price of a regular CD, I should add) present not only a sample of the music played during the tour, but also a glimpse at the people involved, the places they went, and what it was like for them.

The first disc, Live in San Sebastian, has the group playing songs from each Damon and Naomi album and a couple covers, Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" and "Love," by a Japanese band called The Jacks. Damon and Naomi's voices sound even more gorgeous than on their studio albums, as they sing in a freer style, communicating the same mood but at times with even more emotional force. What makes this recording more than just a typical live album, though is the inclusion of Kurihara's electric guitar, which adds edgy, ghost-like, gorgeous presence which gives an extra dose of spark to the group's mostly gentle music.

Song to the Siren, the tour diary, is an hour-long extremely home-made video that's a combination travelogue/concert film/home video. As the opening shot of gorgeous cherry blossoms (taken outside Damon and Naomi's home in Cambridge) quickly establishes that the film will capture beauty that complements their beautiful music, the quick segue to the next shot also establishes that this is not a slick, "professional" film but the work of regular people who want to document their lives. While that fact might mean the film isn't going to get much attention outside of the music world, it also means that the film feels a lot more real, that it feels like a genuine snapshot of the world around us…which is what documentary filmmaking is all about, anyway.

Though the opening scenes show the trio rehearsing at home and playing at the Knitting Factory in New York City, the bulk of the film follows their European tour, including stops in London, Glasgow, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Utrecht and more. There's ample concert footage, enough to give a visual sense of their performing style that fills out the audio document of disc one, and also footage of them setting up before shows, of other bands playing before them (including The Clientele and Richard Youngs) and of them waiting in dressing rooms. Yet as much as a concert film, this is a travel document, about the places they go and the people they meet. There's remarkable footage taken out of plane and train windows, as well as entertaining conversations with people they meet, including a British lawyer who buys their CD from them and then proceeds to give a dramatic reading, with accents, of the promotional quotes included in the CD packaging. Other people in the film include Damon's cousin, who sings one of her own songs while playing an unusual guitar, a German music journalist who Naomi interviews on camera and a Welsh group, obsessed with Joy Division, who play that group's "New Dawn Fades," sung in Welsh, at the Manchester show.

The film is packed with memorable moments, from scenes of yellow fields in the English countryside, set to Damon and Naomi and Kurihara covering Gram Parsons's "Song for You," to the trio walking along a beach in Spain. The DVD also includes a commentary track, where Damon and Naomi provide helpful explanatory information about the tour, giving a greater sense of who all of the people are as well as expressing more of their feelings about the whole experience. To be honest, this is the sort of music-related film I'd love to see more of, instead of slickly produced "concert films" or more self-indulgent home-made releases. Song to the Siren is a worthwhile film and a great document of live music; it delivers images, ideas and feelings that go beyond just this particular band and their songs.

{Note: For more information, visit Sub Pop's web site and Damon and Naomi's own site. Also extremely worth checking out are two other projects they've undertaken: Musicians for Peace, a collective of music-related folks expressing their hopes for peace during the current socio-political climate and gathering timely news and information to help keep people aware of what's going on in the world, and Exact Change, their publishing outfit, which has released a fantastic catalog of books, mostly reissues, with a particular emphasis on surrealism.}

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