Luna

TrackAlbum
I Can't WaitLunapark
California (All The Way)Bewitched
Friendly AdviceBewitched
Sideshow By The SeashorePenthouse
23 Minutes In BrusselsPenthouse
IhopPup Tent
WhispersPup Tent
Superfreaky MemoriesThe Days Of Our Nights
LovedustRomantica
Buffalo BootsRendezvous

Luna photo 1

Luna (1994 l-r): Justin Harwood (bass), Sean Eden (lead guitar), Dean Wareham (gtr, vocals), Stanley Demeski (drums) – photo Danny Clinch

 

 

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Luna playlist

 

 

Contributor: Marc Fagel

Luna’s arrival in 1992 felt at the time like a quick shot of buzzy, psychedelia-tinged guitar rock from a one-off supergroup. A trio of refugees from beloved yet disparate indie band royalty, they hardly seemed destined for longevity; yet iterations of the band not only endured for a solid decade and a half (plus subsequent reunions), but generated some of the finest, most enduring music of the 90s, earning a slot alongside Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Guided by Voices, and other stalwarts of the just-left-of-the-dial guitar rock scene.

The initial trio was comprised of singer/guitarist Dean Wareham, late of Galaxie 500, purveyors of moody dream pop; Stanley Demeski, longtime drummer for the Feelies (who had also recently disbanded); and Justin Harwood, one-time bass player for legendary New Zealand indie pop band the Chills. And while some of the songs appearing on 1992’s debut Lunapark originated as demos for a potential Wareham solo album, the album feels like the work of a fresh, vibrant band. A number of tracks, like the rousing I Can’t Wait, Slash Your Tires, and Smile, are far fizzier and more upbeat than Wareham’s often dark and ponderous work with Galaxie 500, with shades of the retro-psychedelia of Paisley Underground bands like Rain Parade, propelled along by Demeski’s brisk gallop. Even the quieter mid-tempo tunes, like Slide and Anesthesia, have a lighter, airier vibe than Galaxie 500, suggesting a more user-friendly, radio-ready direction for Wareham.

For the follow-up EP and 1994’s full-length sophomore release, Bewitched, some of Lunapark’s more electric edge was pared back, moving towards a smoother, dreamier middle ground between Galaxie 500 and the debut’s more frenetic romps. The addition of lead guitarist Sean Eden allowed the band to stretch out; the songs a bit longer and more instrumentally expansive, yet still tightly focused. Chiming pop tune California (All The Way) is as catchy as anything Wareham’s ever written, while Friendly Advice revisits the upbeat sound of the debut, abetted by a frenetic Velvet Underground-reminiscent jam. Meanwhile, mid-tempo tunes like Tiger Lily and This Time Around confirm Wareham’s growing ease with catchy, hook-driven indie pop.

The four-piece totally gelled by 1995’s Penthouse, a career peak that showed growing sophistication while retaining their early edginess. Sideshow By The Seashore is another memorable indie pop winner, highlighted by a delirious twang-bar guitar riff, while 23 Minutes In Brussels provides a trippy vamp on the Velvets’ Sister Ray riff with a delirious groove and jagged guitar solos (including a visit from Television’s Tom Verlaine). The album managed to recapture some of the gauzy dreaminess of Wareham’s Galaxie 500 work, but with a band that had the chops to give the songs some impressive substance arguably lacking in G500’s more DIY aesthetic.

1997’s Pup Tent lost none of the momentum; despite Demeski’s departure (replaced by Lee Wall, who would remain the band’s drummer going forward), the band sounded passionate and engaged, with a number of tunes upping the volume and energy level from the sleepier Penthouse. Ihop is a (relatively) raging rocker, with a droning guitar hook sounding like a Robert Fripp tape loop overlaid with Wareham’s absurdist lyrics and some ferocious distortion blasts; Whispers (not an obvious single, but one of my favorite deep cuts) has a similarly striking guitar attack, with a wonderful Pixies-esque loud-soft-loud dynamic. There are a few more top-notch hook-driven midtempo tracks that the band had by then mastered, like Beautiful View, Bobby Peru, and Tracy I Love You. It’s a terrifically engaging album, certainly the band’s most varied sonically.

1999’s The Days Of Our Nights is arguably the first album that doesn’t take any bold steps forward; that said, it’s still a pretty solid package, with a few more stellar tracks, even if it’s less consistent overall. (Apparently the record company was unimpressed; Luna were dropped from their contract with Elektra, opting to release the album on a small independent label.) Superfreaky Memories is another dose of Wareham’s cryptic wordplay wrapped around a sugar-coated musical confection; Dear Diary and Math Wiz are nearly as infectious. There are also some surprisingly playful gestures, like the musically and lyrically goofy U.S. Out Of My Pants! and an amusingly lethargic cover of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine.

A final personnel change followed the release, with Britta Phillips taking over on bass; her style, like Harwood’s, is relatively unflashy, though Phillips’s backing vocals on a few tunes add a welcome new dimension. (Wareham ended up leaving his wife and marrying Phillips, a bit of drama that didn’t necessarily permeate the music, though there is an increasingly romantic vibe to a number of songs.)

Following a winning (if unimaginatively titled) live album (Luna Live), the band returned in 2002 with Romantica, sounding much like Days – no dramatic changes, and a decent (if ultimately underwhelming) set of songs, a few of which readily join the band’s growing body of memorable stand-out tracks. Lovedust in particular highlights the romantic vibe, Wareham sounding like the post-punk heir to Bryan Ferry’s throne as love-struck crooner; Phillips’ subtle harmonies in the chorus make the song particularly affecting. Mermaid Eyes is a wonderful Wareham/Phillips duet, while Weird And Woozy sounds like classic Luna. The latter half of the album drops off, though, the songs a bit faceless and bleeding together, and even the uncharacteristically punk-derived 1995 can’t keep the album from feeling underdeveloped.

The next album, 2004’s Rendezvous, would be the band’s last, and the demise of the band doesn’t seem entirely unpredictable given another set of songs that again feels a bit lackluster despite a few final stabs at greatness. Buffalo Boots is a personal favorite, an understated riff gathering steam towards a rousing finish that holds up alongside the band’s best work. Malibu Love Nest is another upbeat tune that recalls the riff-driven mid-tempo rockers of the 90s, while Cindy Tastes Of Barbecue is a lovely, engaging ballad.

The band’s final tour is documented in the excellent film Tell Me Do You Miss Me, a documentary that is both captivating and depressing, completely deromanticizing life on the road for an indie band that never quite made it as big as they deserved, the tedium of t-shirt sales and long bus rides and intra-band tension periodically washed away by triumphant concert performances.

Following the break-up, Wareham and Phillips continued releasing music, both separately and together (as Dean & Britta), ranging from Wareham’s Velvet-y mood pieces to Phillips’ torch songs. Highlights of their non-Luna work include Ginger Snaps, a deliciously perky duet on Dean & Britta’s L’Avventura, and Phillips’s stunning cover of the Cars’ Drive on her Luck Or Magic album.

The band has periodically regrouped in recent years, playing a few reunion shows (occasionally performing albums like Penthouse in their entirety). In 2017, they released A Sentimental Education, a covers album which, as is typically the case, is arguably inessential yet features some welcome interpretations of songs from an eclectic batch of artists (including the Cure, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and Mercury Rev), all of which the band comfortably restyles as consummate Luna songs. (The highlight is their resurrection of the minor gem Friends from the largely forgotten and heavily derided post-Lou Reed Velvet Underground (sort of) album Squeeze.) This was followed by a 2019 EP, Postscripts, which added a few more covers. As the band had released a number of covers-heavy EPs during their initial run, their adeptness at reinterpretations of others’ work was hardly startling, but it was nice to hear some new music from the band even in the absence of Wareham originals.

 

 

 

Luna photo 2

Luna (2000 l to r): Sean Eden (lead guitar), Dean Wareham (guitar, vocals), Lee Wall (drums), Britta Phillips (bass) – photo: Michael Lavine

 

 

 

Luna official website

Dean Wareham official website

Luna bandcamp

A Head Full of Wishes
– fan page for Luna and other Wareham/Galaxie 500-related projects

Luna biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a recovering lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the recently-published rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

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2 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Jul 24, 2020

    Nicely done, sir! I’d just like to add that Dean Wareham’s autobiography Black Postcards is one of the best I’ve ever read.

    • Marc Fagel
      Jul 27, 2020

      Thanks, Keith. And I totally second that on Dean’s memoir. As seen in the documentary, he’s an incredibly insightful and intelligent guy, and he’s got a knack for prose. A lot of soul-baring stuff as I recall.

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