ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

a2262306889_10

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

INTERVIEW: Moon Duo

moon_duo

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.”