Release Date: Mar 11, 2014
Record label: Double Feature
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
It either takes a lot of patience or a lot of gall for Dean Wareham to release his first full-length solo album nearly 30 years after he began his musical tenure (first with Galaxie 500, then with Luna and Dean & Britta), but what’s more surprising is that many people are still not familiar with Wareham, despite his influence on the sound of so many of those bands crammed in your side bag and milk crates. But for those of you who are familiar with Wareham, this album is not simply a parody of what he’s done in the past; instead it comes across as an exploration of musical influences and space. Songs like “Heartless People” and “My Eyes Are Blue” sound stripped-down, but like the rest of the album, Wareham’s songs are deceptively minimalist.
A new album bearing the name Dean Wareham is cause for huzzahs. Last heard on the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Emancipated Hearts miniature, and last seen in a toe-curling dinner party scene in the movie Frances Ha, the former Galaxie 500 and Luna man in the denim shirt is back on form with his first proper solo effort, produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Backed by his sometime foil, the luscious bassist Britta Phillips, and drummer Anthony LaMarca, Wareham takes his time exploring post-psychedelic roots on The Dancer Disappears before he steps into the light on Love Is Not A Roof Against The Rain.
Dean Wareham's first full-length solo album, 2014's eponymously titled Dean Wareham, features production by My Morning Jacket's Jim James and an elegiac, lyrical tone. The album follows up Wareham's equally compelling 2013 five-song EP, Emancipated Hearts, and explores a similarly baroque and folk-pop-leaning sound with all the latitude offered by a full-length record. In that sense, the album fits nicely into Wareham's existing discography as the leader of bands like Galaxie 500, Luna, and Dean & Britta, the latter two being critically acclaimed projects with his wife and bassist, Britta Phillips (who appears here as well).
From bandmates (Damon & Naomi in Galaxie 500, members of the Feelies and Mercury Rev in Luna) to his shrewd choice in producers (Tony Visconti, Dave Fridmann), some may say that the secret to Dean Wareham's unaltered success relies on his ability to surround himself with a strong supporting staff. Following 2013's Emancipated Hearts mini-LP, Wareham releases his first solo full-length, a predictably collaborative effort that finds him teaming up with wife Britta Phillips, longtime drummer Anthony LaMarca and My Morning Jacket's Jim James (who also produced the album). That said, the album is a joyous, well-executed mish-mash rooted in crisp sounds, thanks to James' rock-centric production.
Dean Wareham has always presented himself as a music fan as much as a musician, the sort of artist for whom it’s not uncommon to devote at least 20% of an album to cover songs. But whether he was reinterpreting George Harrison with Galaxie 500 or Guns 'N Roses with Luna, it never felt like Wareham was just showing off his record collection for the sake of it, or worse, being ironic. Rather, he was asserting his platonic ideal of pop music, separating iconic artists from their historical baggage, and distilling the songs down to the intimate, personal connection and details that made him an enthusiast in the first place.
We’re humans, aren’t we? Even when we write screeds against consumerism, we are living it out. Air, water, space for waste. Why must we all live in a constant state of questioning these days? ‘Cause we want to transcend, or at least begin to know what transcending is like. Because we want things, even if the things in question aren’t convenient.
Dean Wareham is apparently incapable of doing any wrong. From his days with Galaxie 500, through to Luna and his work with Luna bassist Britta Phillips, it is always possible to rely on him to deliver the goods. Late last year Wareham released a mini-album entitled Emancipated Hearts which appeared to find him returning tentatively to his Galaxie roots for inspiration and examining his past in unusual clarity.
This is a record that should really be viewed through the lens of two serious musical crimes of recent times. Last year, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James released a fabulous solo LP, Regions of Light and Sound of God; it’s a beautiful odyssey through James’ own attitudes to spirituality, scored through with gentler, folkier textures than his day job generally allows him to explore; there’s some deft touches of psychedelia, too. It seemed to well and truly fly under the radar; I didn’t even see it pop up in many of those second chance saloons for underappreciated albums, the end-of-year lists; admittedly, it probably wasn’t helped in that regard by an early February release date.
Nearly 30 years into a career that includes stints fronting beloved dream-pop outfits Galaxie 500 and Luna, Dean Wareham has finally released a solo album. The singer-guitarist's trademark slow, rhythmic chug and wry worldview are both here, as appealing as ever, and Jim James' warm production renders these songs the equivalent of cozy Danish modern furniture – all clean lines and earth tones. Wareham does a lot of looking back in his lyrics, and at times the vibe tips from languid grace to a torpid kind of melancholy.
I’ve always felt that the longer an artist’s career goes on, the more interesting they get. That’s obviously not true of every musician, but the true greats have fascinating turns in the later parts of their careers, even if their work can get frustrating sometimes. As songwriters grow older, they tend to shed some of the pretentions that come with being young and desperate to prove oneself.
In his days in the short-lived but influential Galaxie 500 in the late-’80s and early ’90s, Dean Wareham specialised in writing perfect dream-pop that found the sweet spot between sleepy and beautiful. Little changed in his next band Luna, or when collaborating with his wife as Dean and Britta. On his first full-length solo record, and the follow-up to last year’s strong ‘Emancipated Hearts’ EP, the sleepiness outweighs the beauty.
Following speedily on from last year’s sublime mini-LP, Emancipated Hearts, Dean Wareham carries on solo trading with the first self-monikered full-length set of his continuously enlightening post-Luna career. Those expecting the album to be an overtly rocking reaction to the intricate and pensive Emancipated Hearts – particularly with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James assuming production duties instead of Papercuts’ Jason Quever – might be surprised by the resultant new record, which finds Wareham in an even more strung-out and brooding mood. Whereas Emancipated Hearts took many of its cues from literary sources, this sequel possesses a more personalised resonance, with shades of late-night ‘70s singer-songwriting melded into often sonically ethereal arrangements, awash with gauzy layers of guitars, smeary synths, subtly-embedded electronics, low-slung bass and jazz-scented drums.
Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500 and Luna) makes an inspired move on his first solo album, recording with producer and psychedelic disciple Jim James of My Morning Jacket. They recorded this in James’s studio in Louisville, Ky., and nearly each song has a compelling depth. It’s basically a concept album about indecision, as Wareham plays more of a soothing raconteur than a singer.
Dean Wareham has been singing and playing guitar in roughly the same winsome way for more than 25 years, first with Galaxie 500, then Luna, then in a duo—the fittingly named Dean & Britta—with his wife, Britta Phillips. Dean Wareham marks his first full-length solo album, and it should come as no surprise that it’s really no surprise at all: Fans of anything he’s done in the past will slide into these nine songs like slippers, cozy and familiar. That isn’t a bad thing at all.