ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

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Moon Duo return with the first of two albums they plan to release in 2017, with both volumes rooted in balanced and oppositional ideas and textures. The conceptual approach of the double album is, in their words “an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.” That Yin Yang format won’t of course make complete sense until Vol. 2 is released later in the year but for now you can be assured that Moon Duo are still doing what they do best – laying down dense, surging and grinding psych rock rhythms.

Their music is always one of perpetual motion and since their first releases, which were dominated by a colder and more mechanical mood, they’ve slowly evolved to find a unique common ground between machine-like repetition, Sanae Yamada’s kosmiche synth washes and melodies and the free-spirited guitar explorations courtesy of Ripley Johnson.

On Occult Architecture Vol. 1, the term primitive futurism keeps coming to mind. The pair conjure up images of mysterious shadowy figures, druids, shamanistic rituals and pagan mysticism with their obfuscated lyrics and general dark tones and textures. They also invoke the spirit of astral travel and space travel, their songs often resembling a object hurtling through space and free of any earthly restraint. There’s a certain cyber quality to the shape and relentless drive of Moon Duo, albeit infused with human emotions – both good and bad.

‘Cold Fear’ induces just that – a queasy feeling of unease which makes it a less aggressive descendent of Suicide’s experiments at putting their audiences in a state of discomfort. ”Cross Town Fade’ is a curious blend of a tranced-out Sigue Sigue Sputnik stuck in a glam boogie vortex while ‘Will Of The Devil’ spins on an axis of insistent drumming with a yearning, melancholic synth melody sounding like a lost transmission from the point where Joy Division became New Order.

The album closer ‘White Rose’ emerges from the dark mist into a more optimistic world, one built on a perfect Krautrock rhythm and Johnson’s guitar sounding like a demonstrative insect buzzing and demanding to be heard. The glorious drone rolls on for ten minutes, onward and upward toward the light and presumably its spring/summer-centric sibling album.

It’s a fascinating journey, with or without the overarching concept, and reinforces the ability of Moon Duo to create music that is both sonically straightjacketed, endlessly immersive and without visible horizons.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Moon Duo, Grinding Eyes, Glass Skies @ NSC, Sydney (10/12/15)

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MOON DUO

Opening this evening of psych rock was Glass Skies who whipped up a hard stoner/space rock barrage of riffs and grooves for the few early arrivals. The singer/guitarist overplayed his hand with teeth and behind-the-head solos but they nailed the ‘rock’ aspect of psychedelic music convincingly.

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GRINDING EYES (stage set up)

Grinding Eyes enhanced the tripped-out mood of the evening with a a sea of projected images flooding the band and stage as they dug out some dark and fine garage/drone nihilist rock sounds. Part Stooges, part Primal Scream, they possess a strong rhythm section led by drummer Cec Condon which allowed the guitar, Juno synth and Farfisa organ to carve out some visceral and hypnotic swirling melodies.

This tour sees Moon Duo touring Australia with their live drummer John Jeffrey for the first time and he made a real difference in adding a human element to the previous repetition and rigidity of their drum machine. With projections creating the effect of a swirling vortex the trio quickly laid down the template for the evening with their Krautrock meets Suicide rhythms, Ripley Johnson’s curling , hypnotic guitar phrasing and Sanae Yamada’s keyboards which provided the magical dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) textures and melodies. To new ears it would have sounded like one extended set-piece but fans of their music know the subtleties and the reward of tension release when Moon Duo exit their long, head-nodding passages and hit rare and uplifting choruses. The songs from this year’s Shadow Of The Sun album stood out with their more precise and brighter sound. Wilding, Night Beat and Free The Skull sounded like T-Rex and Bo Diddley reconfigured into ghostly and psychedelic drone rock and a room full of closed eyes and trance-induced head nodding was testament to Moon Duo’s masterful use of endless simplicity in primal rock n roll.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Moon Duo

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Anything Can Be Psychedelic

Moon Duo’s Sanae Yamada discusses their place in psychedelic music, adding a live drummer to their line-up and performing to the ashes of dead people, with Chris Familton.

As the name suggests Moon Duo are a musical pairing, the collaborative project of Yamada and partner Ripley Johnson. The latter is best known for his work with San Francisco psych/drone group Wooden Shjips but with logistical issues slowing progress with that band and Moon Duo becoming more prolific and popular they’re able to spend more time exploring their lunar landscape.

“This will be the first time we’re doing two Moon Duo records instead of alternating albums between the two bands. Wooden Shjips can be more difficult to organise and get them all together as some of them have intense day jobs and families so it is harder to organise. It’s easy for us to pack up and hit the road and John (Jeffrey – drums) is young, he’ll do whatever!” laughs Yamada.

Jeffrey joined the band a couple of years ago, replacing the drum machines they used on stage and in the process reinvigorating and breathing new life into some of the band’s songs.

“There are some songs that I’m way more into because we’ve found this other mode for them which is more dynamic than the recorded versions. A big part of it is having John who opens us up to be dynamic and flexible in a way that we weren’t before. We can play with tempo and length and explore realms on the spur of the moment which is fantastic for us. Having John was great because we could do this kind of man-machine thing where we programmed beats and then got him to recreate them with a human touch. I was really happy with how that worked out.”

Playing in new countries and in unique venues is another way to maintain enthusiasm and variety in their live performance. Recently, one such setting was the Bohemian National Cemetery Chapel in Chicago.

“That was amazing. That place just made the hairs on my arms stand up. It was a crematorium as well as a chapel so it had these walls with little glass cases full of urns with people’s ashes and photographs, mostly from the early 20th century. The room was round with a domed ceiling. Very spooky but very cool.”

There has been an increase in the popularity of psychedelic-based music, from Tame Impala to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, in recent years but does it constitute a scene and if so, is it one that Moon Duo feel a part of?

“I like both those bands but I feel the concept of psychedelic rock is very broad. The idea of psychedelia is to open up doors and possibilities and not put boundaries on things or box anything in. For me, anything can be psychedelic. For instance I find some of Herbie Hancock’s music from the mid-70s to be deeply psychedelic. There’s this minimal synth woman Laurie Spiegel who I really like and her stuff is super minimal but amazing and I find that extremely transportive in a psychedelic way. I guess I appreciate the label for our music but I think the current scene around that concept has a very specific sound aesthetic which we don’t really fit but I like the concept of psychedelia in general.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Shadow Of The Sun

Rating8shadow-lpMaking use of a limited palette of instruments and ideas is an approach that has tripped up many a musician as they’ve endeavoured to get to the core of their creativity and cut out any frills and fireworks. Both Moon Duo and singer/guitarist Ripley Johnson’s other band Wooden Shjips have always attempted to do just that and almost without fail they’ve succeeded.

Moon Duo’s fourth album takes the repetitive melodic hooks of Circles (2012) and takes them to a darker and more cocooned place. There is an increased sonic density and sometimes claustrophobia on Shadow Of The Sun even though they still sound like a band trying to create the aural equivalent of interstellar travel. Sanae Yamada’s keyboards take the lead in most cases, conjuring up the gothic garage rock of Zero, Free The Skulls’ droning psychedelic organ and the billowy dream pop of In A Cloud. Johnson knows that vocals are just another part of the compositional puzzle and provides them in the form of textural tones rather than a lyrical lead instrument.

Through the haze and drone there is a pop sensibility at the heart of Moon Duo’s music. Slow Down Low could easily be early rock n roll if it wasn’t for the Suicide and Krautrock filter the pair apply to the song. Shadow Of The Sun is ghostly, parallel-world music that hypnotically and economically rephrases the past. This is a mind-altering, chemical-free trip of the highest order and their strongest album to date.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo | Circles

by Chris Familton

It was only last year that Moon Duo gave us their debut album Mazes, a record which showed that though guitarist Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips) was still operating in similar terrain to his aquatic pals, the addition of Sanae Yamada’s synth textures provided plenty of new angles to discover and bliss out to. Circles takes that template and stretches and tightens it even further by maintaining the essential ingredients of drone and psych but this time injecting more swagger and melody to the sound.

I Can See is a prime example of Moon Duo making subtle sonic adjustments. It has a playful hiccuping beat with a ghost-house organ swirling around it like a phantom menace. As it digs a hole in your head it casts a positively uplifting shadow over the early part of the record, making for a sense of euphoric trance rather than a drugged-out, sleepy head nod. The interstellar country haze of Sparks and the hypnotic sway of Trails finds them slowing things down and heading into Brian Jonestown Massacre territory while Free Action ramps up the boogie quotient and returns them to their Suicide comfort zone. The influence of the New York no wavers borders on worship but Johnson has found ways to filter it through his effects pedals and garage psych rock headspace to breath new life into the sound.

In a musical space bound by drone and repetition Circles continues the impeccable quality control and songwriting of Ripley Johnson. It adheres to the principal of finding a groove and digging in deep and for those who love the cerebral and physical immersion that comes from that, this will be an essential addition to their music collections.

this review was first published in Drum Media

 

New Releases | October 6th 2012

NEW RELEASES

This week sees a handful of noteworthy album releases with the most prominent being the new Tame Impala LP Lonerism. The hype has been building for this one for a while now and on early listens it doesn’t disappoint. There is a huge widescreen sound happening with Kevin Parker’s trademark psych signature all over the guitars, drums and increasingly – synths.

San Diego’s The Soft Pack release Strapped this week, the follow-up to their brilliant self titled album that made the upper reaches of our ‘best of ‘list for 2010. Strapped finds them in the same indie agit-rock vein with some new wave-ish diversions and experimentations.

Moon Duo is another project for Ripley Johnson of Wooden Shjips fame and though they are working in a very similar area to his day band the duo use synths and some brighter and twitchier textures to create some fantastic droning psych rock. Think a modernist boogie take on Suicide. We’ll have a full review of the new record up soon.

For those who appreciate quality americana, Iris DeMent has a new record out. Sing The Delta is her first LP in 16 years and finds her in fine form with her country twang venturing into some wonderful southern soul territory.

Check out the Rdio streams of all this week’s featured new releases:

LIVE REVIEW: Moon Duo @ OAF, Sydney 30/09/11

written by Chris Familton

Melbourne’s Fabulous Diamonds set the mood of the evening with a set composed around drone and hypnotic repetition. Featuring just drums and keyboards the duo were in no rush to get anywhere in particular with songs that slowly evolved from metronomic drum patterns into gently pulsing waves of analog synths, grinding organ, sparsely decorated with vocals from drummer Nisa Venerosa. When she sang the mood lightened considerably, bridging that gap between man and machine with a voice that hinted at the doomy tones of Nico while still sounding like a breath of fresh air. They have a fine-tuned sound that reminiscent of an ambient Suicide or the Velvets if they’d discovered keyboards instead of guitars.

Moon Duo is another project of Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson and that connection no doubt drew in a few curious punters who have been taken with that band’s take on psychedelic guitar rock. As a duo Johnson and partner Sanae Yamada cut striking figures on stage, Johnson with his white streaked full beard and Yamada behind the keyboards, hair flying and body lost in the sonic waves they were creating. That name Suicide popped up again with Moon Duo more closely related than Fabulous Diamonds. The use of drum machines gave their sound that insistent, Krautrock angle that hammers the rhythm into your brain and locks on for the ride. Before you knew it you were nodding your head to Johnson’s tripped out guitars that were a mix of desert rock and Grateful Dead retro psychedelia. His playing was a hybrid of solos and repetitive chords that never settled into one or the other, constantly interchanging without deviating from the forward movement of the music. Yamada’s keyboards acted as the driving force behind the music keeping it grounded and cemented to the beat.

The combination of all these elements resulted in songs that felt like they were the ghosts of 60s garage rock, warped and infused with 70s space rock and exploratory primitive electronica. Seer soared into the stratosphere while Mazes was a summer cruise down the coast with the roof down. Visually they used video and screen projections that enhanced the music to great effect. Psychotropic kaleidoscopic mixed with strafing lines and epileptic digital effects to perfectly complement the nature of the music. This was brilliantly executed head music of the highest order that knew the importance of also connecting physically.

this review was first published in The Drum Media

INTERVIEW: Moon Duo

INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE

RIPLEY JOHNSON IS A BUSY MAN, RECENTLY RELEASING NEW NEW ALBUMS WITH WOODEN SHJIPS AND MOON DUO. HE TAKES THE TIME TO EXPLAIN TO CHRIS FAMILTON WHERE THE LATTER FITS INTO THE WORLD OF DRONING PSYCHEDELIC ROCK.

Establishing yourself outside a band where you have gained a loyal following can be a tough task. There are the perils of not being as good as the group or it being seen as a side-project – a folly when the office is closed for the holidays. Johnson has spent the last five years as lead guitarist with San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips before adding Moon Duo to his discography in 2009. A duo with Sanae Yamada, the pair work in similar hypnotic psych territory to Wooden Shjips but take a minimal approach based around guitar, keyboards and drum samplers resulting in repetition and dissonance. Mazes is their second full length and Johnson is keen to stress how seriously he takes Moon Duo as an ongoing musical concern. “It’s all equally important for me. I don’t see it as a side project and I hope to add more projects as I can make the time. I actually spend more time working and touring with Moon Duo at this point, though Wooden Shjips is probably better known. Moon Duo was simply a desire to make more music. Wooden Shjips is not a full time band, so I had a lot of musical ideas and energy to channel into Moon Duo. We also wanted to tour more often.”

There are a number of obvious influences that combine to form the sound of the pair’s music. Bands like Suicide, Neu and Hawkwind are embedded in the fabric of the music and though Johnson acknowledges those acts he is also quick to point out that himself and Yamada draw from a wide and varied musical world. “Those are all bands we love but there are so many others. We listen to so much different music, we’re like sponges. But there is a strong personal element to the music that we are bound by. We don’t try to sound like anyone else. I think we just may have similar sensibilities as the bands mentioned.”

The new album Mazes has a very widescreen and open sound, not something one would expect from a duo. Johnson doesn’t see the number of personal as a limitation, instead he approaches the songs with an open mind to all possibilities. “We were going for a big rock sound, despite being a duo. I’m very much into layering. The Rolling Stones’ Jimmy Miller-produced albums were a big touchstone (Sticky Fingers, Exile, etc…), though obviously we don’t sound like them. We recorded a lot of guitar tracks. The next one will likely go in a different direction.”

By allowing themselves the freedom to add those layers to the studio recordings they created a challenge of replicating the sound live. The solution was to restrict the songs to their bare essentials and build noise around them. “We don’t try to recreate the recordings though we do play the songs. It’s a more electric, living sound. We build drum patterns using a sampler, then perform with keyboard and guitar, with live looping for some parts. It’s fairly stripped down but we can make a surprising amount of noise with just two people. And of course our songs are very minimal to begin with. That’s an important part of our musical sensibility. We certainly feed off the audience’s energy as much as possible. Some crowds are more reserved so we have to look within a bit more, but that’s just a different type of interaction. We are more on the knife’s edge with Moon Duo. There is less support than with a quartet. It keeps us sharp though.”

Though Moon Duo create tightly wound, driving music they also present it in a visceral and organic way. If Wooden Shjips is the sound of getting out of your mind then Moon Duo is the sound of journeying inside it. “We recognize that things are not as they appear on the surface and the music is a reflection of that,” states Johnson.

 this interview was first published in The Drum Media