Release Date: Oct 15, 2013
Record label: Double Feature
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Dream Pop
Dean Wareham's first-ever solo project, 2013's mini-album Emancipated Hearts, finds the former Luna frontman delivering more of the melodic, psychedelic-tinged pop he has built a career around since his early days with the legendary indie rock band Galaxie 500. In some ways, having been the primary songwriter for most of his bands, Wareham has always been a bit of a solo artist. His songs, which always feature his laid-back, half-lidded vocal delivery; romantic, if often surrealist lyrics, and dreamy, hummable tunes, are practically a genre unto themselves.
That Dean Wareham’s debut solo mini-album contains just six tracks, yet feels more complete than most full albums we’ve heard this year, speaks volumes for the former Galaxie 500 frontman’s ability to imbue even the slightest of songs with world-weary weight and heft. The unhurried, circuitous likes of ‘Love Is Colder Than Death’ and ‘The Ticking Is The Bomb’ find him on familiar ground, but it’s ‘The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began’, with its subtle echoes of The Byrds’ ‘I Come And Stand At Every Door’, that packs the greatest punch. As ever, Wareham’s work sounds like the model of stateliness and simplicity, but look beneath the surface, and you’llfind a deep, rewarding roil of complex emotional currents.
For a man who's been plying his trade for over 25 years, it's kind of strange that Emancipated Hearts is Dean Wareham's first solo recording. But, given the stripes he's earned as the frontman of revered dreampoppers Galaxie 500 and the lesser loved Luna, there's little chance of finding a naively coined debut record here. .
“How can we face the storms without emancipated hearts?” This Dean Wareham asks on, astonishingly, his debut solo release. Is it a rhetorical question sung by a man whose heart is truly free and is offering advice, or is it sung directly by a man who’s still holding himself captive? These are questions you can trace back to February of 1988, when Wareham entered New Noise Studios in New York with his band Galaxie 500 and sang the same a verse, and the same chorus twice, all over two chords, and just let the rest of the song spill out after it. The song was “Tugboat”, Galaxie 500’s first single, which would come to be one of the most popular entries of Wareham’s entire catalog.
Dean Wareham has always seemed to have an uncomfortable relationship with his past. Ever since he dissolved Galaxie 500 in 1989, each new project of his came with a crowd of disapproving nostalgists who would rather have him go back to doing what he was doing before. Wareham’s undoubtedly aware of this, as each project he’s undertaken since then has been a reaction to the last.
Dean Wareham is one of the great New York guitar sophisticates, crafting soft, elegant indie rock in Galaxie 500, Luna and his husband-wife duo, Dean and Britta. He's now an Angeleno, and his first solo album is characteristically refined and intimate, sung in a hymnlike mumble and steeped in the Velvet Underground, classical string drones, synth-pop and country music (the digital-only version has a great Everly Brothers cover). Songs like "The Deadliest Day Since the Invasion Began" evoke loss, sorrow and political angst but always with great warmth; when he sings, "We'll find a way to make the piggies pay," it's a protest slogan that feels like highbrow pillow talk.
Dean Wareham's debut full-length as a solo artist doesn't stray hugely from any of his influential downbeat pop projects - Galaxie 500, Luna, Dean & Britta - nor is it quite as interesting. Galaxie 500 stood out for its psychedelic slowness, Luna for its dreaminess before "dream pop" was a genre, Dean & Britta (Wareham with his wife and former Luna bandmate, Britta Phillips) for its romantic frisson. Emancipated Hearts' chilled-out songs are strong, though, built on solid, simple melodies and weary, disillusioned lyrics.
Dean Wareham, frontman of former space-rockers Galaxie 500 and the now-defunct Luna, has spent over two decades building and dismantling his concept of what love means. Wareham’s musical endeavors today still plumb through personal realizations about his own shortcomings, loneliness, and the scared-shitless feeling of letting your guard down in exchange for intimacy. Despite the triumphant title of Wareham’s latest solo EP, Emancipated Hearts, a prevailing sense of defeat is tough to shake.
Having successfully quashed any concerns about securing a sustainable existence in the wake of Luna’s 2005 dissolution – thanks to his ongoing role as one half of Dean & Britta, soundtrack work, publishing his enjoyable Black Postcards memoir and live shows revisiting the Galaxie 500 songbook – Dean Wareham now continues his diverse renaissance with a newly-cut solo mini-LP. Consisting of six tracks (bolstered by bonus cuts on CD and digital formats), Emancipated Hearts feels like a deliberately low-key and lateral route for the first official solo Wareham release since 1991’s one-off Anesthesia EP. A lot of artistic and music industry water has gone under Wareham’s bridge since that tentative interim post-Galaxie 500/pre-Luna release of course, which perhaps reflects in the more mature and downbeat yet playfully experimental nature of this mid-length suite of songs.
It’s taken a long old time, Dean. After over 25 years making music, being the creative force behind Galaxie 500, Luna and Dean & Britta, the legend (full disclosure: I love this guy, regard him as one of the true greats, a total hero) that is Dean Wareham has finally released a solo (mini) album under his own name. Obviously Emancipated Hearts, released on his spiritual home of Sonic Cathedral, is great but I have to maintain a critical stance rather than just pop a nine out of ten rating on it and tell you to go and buy/listen…so I guess I’ll have to write a little bit more, huh? So here we have six songs recorded by Jason Quever of Papercuts, with Wareham’s wife Britta Phillips on bass (as she has been since the latter days of Luna) and Gillian Rivers on violin.
No surprise that Dean Wareham would, on his first official solo record, take inspiration from all manner of literary media – films, poems, novels and recent headlines among them. The Galaxie 500 and Luna frontman has a pretty diverse portfolio, after all: Wareham’s penned that rarest of animals, a well-written rock biography, Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance; acted in several films (and a Law & Order episode) and soundtracked or scored several more; and most recently toured Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests” to a new LP of music inspired by the pop icon’s “moving portraits. ” Real renaissance dude, you know? So for Emancipated Hearts’ six tracks (two more bonus tracks are available via various outlets), Wareham took the inspiration idea one step further by using various titles or phrases to kick-start his muse, incorporating them either as the first lines or titles for these songs.