Review by Tim Sendra
The release of their seventh album, 2007's Within These Walls, means that Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have been releasing albums as a duo for 15 years. Shocking, yes. Even more shocking is that at a point where most bands or artists are well past their sell-by date, Damon & Naomi keep getting better and more interesting. Their basic sound of gently strummed guitars, melodic bass, innocent vocals, and arty lyrics has been the same since they were two-thirds of Galaxie 500, but each record has seen subtle changes in atmosphere and even some dramatic changes, like adding the guitar of Ghost's Michio Kurihara (a collaboration that has been working beautifully since 2000's Damon & Naomi with Ghost album). Within These Walls marks a significant change in sound from the duo. Ironically, given the title, it's their first record that sounds like it was made outside the walls of their apartment. Thanks to the string and horn arrangements that add rich texture to the tracks, the sax and trumpet solos that add an occasional flourish, and of course, Kurihara's amazing lyrical and lush guitar, the album has a larger-than-indie sound. Unlike many bands that opt for a wider-screen approach, the addition of extraneous elements doesn't weaken the core strengths of the group. Instead it gives Damon & Naomi's already impressive sound more dynamics and drama. A track like the Krukowski-sung "Defibrillation" is heartbreakingly honest and tense; add the strings and Kurihara's swooping guitar lines, and it's almost unbearable. Every track benefits from the expanded arrangements, and it also helps that the duo has written some very good songs: the title track is achingly beautiful and romantic sung in breathtakingly intimate fashion by Yang, "Stars Never Fade" is a midtempo near-rocker with a scorching Kurihara solo, "Cruel Queen" is a stark and eerie recasting of traditional folk ballad "The Trees They Do Grow High." Elsewhere it's easy to be charmed by "The Turnaround"'s subtle vocal harmonies and lilting melody, the shimmering string arrangement on "Lilac Land," the strutting horns on "On the Aventine," or Yang's splendid vocals throughout the album. Within These Walls ranks alongside Damon & Naomi's best work (their time with Galaxie 500 included) and is proof of their formidable staying power both artistically and as a band.