The Galaxie 500 story begins in New York City, where Naomi Yang, Damon Krukowksi, and New Zealand transplant Dean Wareham attended high school together. Graduating in 1981, Dean and Damon enrolled in college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During their first year there, nascent instrumentalists Wareham (on guitar) and Krukowski (on drums) formed a band that played the sorts of ridiculous punk covers that college students love to play. The following year, Naomi also came to college in Cambridge and became the band's graphics advisor. And while it was all a bit silly, the process of musical creation ignited small fires in the brains of them all.
By the end of their undergraduate careers, Dean and Damon decided to start a "real" band. After an ad in the Village Voice failed to produce any suitable applicants for the job of bassist, Naomi announced that she would play bass (something she had never done previously). The trio spent the summer of 1987 woodshedding in New York. They returned to Cambridge in the fall of that year, named themselves after one of Ford's mid-60s muscle cars, started playing local clubs and recorded a handful of demos. Three songs included in the box set are from the homemade demos that Galaxie cut that year, and even through the haze of this rudimentary production, the infernal glow of their magic emerges. While everyone else in the States seemed intent on mimicking either the Stooges or R.E.M., Galaxie 500 combined a thoroughly languorous attack with guitar jittery that was unmistakably their own.
In 1987, Galaxie 500 hooked up with producer Kramer to record their first single. Although it seems unlikely that he realized it at the time, Kramer's decision to coat the vocals on "Tugboat" with several feet of reverb gave the band's sound its singular style: a soft and chewy vocal center around which they wrapped their billowy sonic mix. Urgently simple Moe Tucker-ish drumming, bass work that slides along your back like a gentle 300 pound masseuse, and guitars that strum lightly or blare wildly with disdain for external logic collided exquisitely with vocals that sound as though they were emanating from hypnotized lips. As unwieldy as this combination might sound on the surface, its alchemy was absolutely addictive. (Further expanding the view of Galaxie's early sound, the box set also features the previously unreleased "I Can't Believe It's Me" from these sessions, and "King of Spain," the b-side to the "Tugboat" single.)
Hailed in Boston as a masterpiece, "Tugboat" set the stage for Galaxie 500's first album, Today, which they recorded with Kramer (for $750) in the summer of 1988. Melody Maker called the LP "an astonishing debut by anybody's standards," and indeed it is. The incredible, supple beauty that Galaxie spun like straw was so sweetly melancholic that it all but smothered you. Damon's drums drift with the simmering presence of jazz classicism, Naomi's bass is rich with dreamy emotional content, Dean's guitar completes the aural landscapes begun by '69-era Sterling Morrison, and the vocals emerge from the Ouija board of eternity. A highlight of Today is the incredible primal-drone-hunch treatment the band gives to Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste." The three extra tracks from this session, included on the box set, would have made Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore fiercer in his declaration of Today as "my favorite guitar record of 1988."