Mike McGonigal - Temperature's Rising: Galaxie 500 - An Oral and Visual History [book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Mike McGonigal

Temperature's Rising: Galaxie 500 - An Oral and Visual History 📕 (2013)

Yeti Books

It took me longer to play through Galaxie 500's three full-lengths than it did to read their oral history. That's not necessarily a knock on Temperature's Rising: Galaxie 500 – An Oral and Visual History; rather, it's indicative of how briefly/brilliantly the band burned. The book more or less covers the years 1987-1991, with some pre-formation and post-dissolution tidbits mixed in. Still, at just shy of 200 pages, the story still feels a little wanting.

There's a whole mess of genre tags to affix to Galaxie 500–psyche-pop, shoegaze, slowcore, dream pop–so let's settle on the vague "indie" and move on. Formed in Boston in 1987, the trio of Dean Wareham, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang developed a strong European following through steady touring and songwriting. They put out three records in three years, plus a bevy of rarities. The band never dipped in quality (contrary to what they might say about swansong This is Our Music), consistently dropping ethereal jams somewhere between the Velvet Underground and Mazzy Star before finally getting sick of each other and breaking up forever. They influenced a bunch of bands, including Low, Portastatic and Venice is Sinking, so feel free to call them the Velvets of their era.

Temperature's Rising, like the band's songwriting, is sparse. There aren't many anecdotes, good or bad, to be had. Rather, writer Mike McGonigal and his subjects stick to key moments, like their formation, production schedules and first tour of Europe. It's clear the members still kind of don't like each other, but after 20 years, they don't bother trying to explain all the little things that added up to breaking the band up. This is not a book for airing grievances.

But it's also not a book for details in general. Originally presented as a series of interviews on Pitchfork, McGonigal collects a deep well of witnesses but never hits on anything particularly compelling. Three rich kids started a band. They were pretty good. Then they broke up and did other stuff.

Ah, but this is a Visual History too. As it turns out, ex-bassist Yang is something of a packrat (she still has the original receipt for his first bass, presented here). Through her, McGonigal gained access to plenty of unreleased photos and rare posters. For a band with such a strong visual sense, the reproductions here are crucial to understanding Galaxie 500. Yang gives detailed accounts of how she designed cover art and photos alike; these kinds of DIY snippets are refreshing. Her art is presented here in popping detail, lending the book some strong coffee table vibes.

Those committed to purchasing the deluxe edition also receive a 7-inch of early Galaxie 500 tunes. "Temperature's Rising," which later showed up on full-length debut Today, is indicative of the band's style: It's plaintive yet thundering. B-side "Crazy" represents the road not quite taken. It's a little more direct, a lot poppier. I'm not saying Galaxie 500 could have been a commercial juggernaut (and really, there's a certain purity in knowing that they broke up just as they were courting major label offers, leaving behind a perfect, unfettered discography), but it's surprising how easily they could throw down.

Getting back to the book, Temperature's Rising is in a somewhat weird space. You kind of need to be a fan to justify shelling out for it, but it also doesn't necessarily break new stories for those already familiar. Sure, McGonigal touches on how pivotal the dearly departed Noise New York was in shaping the group's sound, but what really touched me was just revisiting the albums while I read the book. They speak for themselves just fine.