Let’s get over Galaxie 500, people. Sure, it was good while it lasted, but that band’s been gone for 20 years, and no one involved with the combo has anything bad to say about that fact. For better or worse, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have been honing a signature sound of their own ever since. Its essentials include their twinned voices in close harmony hovering over deliberate melodies expressed by Yang’s you’ll-know-it’s-her-in-a-note bass guitar; Krukowski’s sparse drumming and acoustic guitar strumming shade things in without getting in her way. When they’re on, that sound is a lovely and fragile thing, but on the albums they recorded for Sub Pop in the 1990s, they coasted on it, making music that was basically inert.
False Beats and True Hearts may move slowly, but it moves with grace, and it never lapses into the sameness of yore. The varied arrangements help. They don’t exactly shed their trademarked stately rhythmic style, but they incorporate Latin touches on “Ophelia” and “Embers.” Ghost guitarist Michio Kurihara’s hot licks are all over the record, kicking off “Walking Backwards” with a quivering fuzz lead, and adding e-bow tones over the stately keyboards on “Nettles And Ivy.” His bandmate Masaki Batoh is on the record, too, but Batoh’s contributions don’t call similar attention to themselves. Saxophonist Bhob Rainey and trumpeter Greg Kelley steer clear of the unusual sounds they favor in their duo nmperign and make like a real horn section; aside from some misplaced Steve Lacy-style licks on “How Do I Say Goodbye,” their parts are like updrafts that make the singing fly higher.
But more important is Yang and Krukowski’s evident maturation as writers and performers. Their singing pushes past surface prettiness to connect with the songs’ sentiments, expressing tenderness in “Ophelia” and persuasively negotiating a sequence of frustration, regret and hope on “Shadow Boxing.” The way the latter song diagrams a couple’s attempt to get past a fight feels like the work of grown-ups who have lived a bit, as opposed to the precocious, sensitive young ‘uns who enshrined their hurt feelings a couple decades ago on More Sad Hits, or the even younger folk in Galaxie 500 who didn’t set their sights much higher than scoring Twinkies at the corner store.