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Luna



Once upon a time in the late '80s there was a wonderful little Boston band called Galaxie 500 with an ethereal brand of spacey pop influenced by the guitar-driven, avant-garde leanings of '70s greats The Velvet Underground and Television. Frontman Dean Wareham's thin, plaintive, ever-so-slightly caustic tenor and torpid, dreamy guitar lines make Galaxie 500's music utterly unmistakable and inspired the devotion of legions of college students and underground rock fans throughout the Northeast and, to a lesser extent, throughout the country during the group's too-short existence. The band's three albums would prove to exert considerable influence on the shoegazer and slo-core movements which emerged during the next decade.

In 1990, after only four years and three albums, Wareham broke up Galaxie 500 and went on to start a new band, initially called Luna2. It was a sort of an underground supergroup, featuring drummer Stanley Demeski, formerly of the Hoboken, NJ avant-rock group The Feelies, and bassist Justin Harewood of the New Zealand alterna-pop ensemble The Chills. The first album, Lunapark (1991), sounded like a slightly more uptempo, catchier Galaxie 500, with the same laconic vocal style, dry, nerdy humor, sleepy guitar, and gauzy textures. Soon after, Luna recruited guitarist Sean Eden and dropped the 2 from its name. The group's next album, the sharper, brighter Bewitched (1994), got the band compared to The Velvet Underground more than ever, thanks in part to a guest appearance from Velvet guitarist Sterling Morrison. For 1995's lush Penthouse, the celebrity guest guitarist was Tom Verlaine of Television (Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier also appeared on one song, a cover of the Serge Gainsbourg classic "Bonnie and Clyde") . Before 1996's Pup Tent, drummer Lee Wall replaced Demeski.

Wareham and co. kept on plugging, slightly expanding their characteristically hazy, warm, soporific sound with subtle string arrangements, skeletal synths, and hints of sunny brass, while sticking to the swirling, rhythm guitar-based, Velvets-derived rock which had made them so successful over the last decade, despite the loss of bassist Harwood, who was replaced by Ben Lee bassist Brita Philips. But Luna's label, the notoriously fickle Elektra Records, decided it had had enough, and dropped the band before its fifth album, The Days of Our Nights, which ended up coming out on Jericho and featured, among its many pop gems, a drowsy cover of Guns N Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine."

In 2001, Arena Rock Records released Luna Live. It?s a terrific retrospective of the band's decade-long career, featuring cuts from all five of the band's albums. A good album for longtime fans or those discovering the band for the first time, Luna Live was culled from performances at New York's Knitting Factory and Washington, DC's 9:30 Club. The charmingly surreal "Anesthesia" first appeared on Wareham's very first Luna effort, the Anesthesia EP, and again on Lunapark. The studio version of the lovely, quiet "Tiger Lily" can be found on Bewitched.

In 2002, Luna returned with a new record, their seventh, titled Romantica with typical tounge-in-cheek charm. It's both familiar and strange, full of classic Dean Wareham lyrical obsessions, lots of glossy, swirling guitars, and prismatic melodies, all of which are in evidence on the yearning "Black Postcards." Yet it's strange too, partly because all Luna records are a bit strange, and partly because of the album's production duo of power-pop great Gene Holder (The dB's) and the great avant-pop guru Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev). This isn't actually the first Fridmann/Wareham collaboration, as those who can recall the brilliant 1991 Mercury Rev single "Car Wash Hair" already know. In any case, these two have worked their magic on Romantica, uncovering all sorts of quirky nuances and golden sounds. There's also more variation here; the album's songs range from surprisingly (for Luna) hard-hitting rock to coy country-flavored balladry to lovelorn pop melancholia. Phillips even offers cool, sweet vocals on several tracks, a lovely complement to Wareham's instantly recognizable in-your-ear warble. The result is one of the richest and most vibrant Luna albums in quite some time.