Release Date: Oct 2, 2012
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Noise Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
Space rock is a crowded constellation these days what with Deerhunter, Autolux and Spiritualized all doing the rounds, but San Francisco racket-makers Moon Duo’s star shines a little brighter than the rest. Full of grinding guitar drones and synth spirals, their second album ‘Circles’ is less an orbiting lunar satellite than a full-blown Death Star, its phasers set to krautrock-inspired noise marathons. ‘I Been Gone’ captures the pair at their best, colliding Queens Of The Stone Age-type stoned garage riffs with the airy vocals of frontman Ripley Johnson (also of Wooden Shjips).
Moon Duo don't exactly make music one would categorize as outdoorsy. For Sanae Yamada and Wooden Shjips axe-grinder Erik "Ripley" Johnson, their compellingly crafted brand of chemically treated krautrocking has felt positively subterranean, taking tried-and-true pop song templates and blasting them to smithereens with looping doses of gleefully woolly droning and guitar noise. Their previous LP, Mazes, made sure not to let too much light in, but also made plenty of accessible strides that suggested the pair wasn't only interested in being another black-light band.
A great deal of the enjoyment derived from San Francisco psych-krauters Moon Duo came from the way guitarist Erik "Ripley" Johnson (also of the like-minded Wooden Shjips) and organist Sanae Yamada were able to drag listeners through Byzantine passages of sound, let them go free by the track's end, and then plunge right back into the next series of twists and turns. There's a reason their last LP was called Mazes, folks. Keeping up with the brisk pace that churned out Mazes and two EPs before it, Circles breaks the Moon Duo tradition ever so slightly.
Having started Moon Duo three years ago as a sideline from the 'day job' with Wooden Shjips, Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada have created a monster of their own that's managed to stand on its own two feet without constantly referencing the San Franciscan four-piece. Last year's excellent Mazes long player firmly established them as a force to be reckoned with, and while their live shows may be few and far between, they're mostly memorable affairs all the same. What that does mean is more of the same rather than any kind of wheel reinvention from Circles.
Moon DuoCircles[Sacred Bones; 2012]By Brendan Frank; October 9, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetErik “Ripley” Johnson’s spends his time away from the psychedelically-inclined Wooden Shjips playing a retro paramour in Moon Duo. He and his bandmate Sanae Yamada have been clicking along at an album-per-year pace — and rather discreetly so at that — since their formation in 2009. Circles, their third full-length in said streak, consistently supplies the shiny simplicity of their earlier work, while eschewing the element of surprise.
It wasn’t so long ago I remember wishing that indie-retro revivalism would forget Joy Division for a moment and pay a little attention to Krautrock. But in today’s musical landscape, “surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.” In other words, be careful what you wish for. That latter phrase is one whose origins are shrouded in time (think of Midas), but that is often attributed to Goethe.
On their third full-length, Moon Duo come down decidedly more on 2011's Mazes' end of the scale than they do on either Escape or Killing Time from 2010. The guitar pyrotechnics that were so prevalent on the earlier albums were firmly a part of Ripley Johnson's other identity -- as songwriter and lead guitarist for Wooden Shjips, where sprawling post-psych jams are the norm rather than the exception. On Mazes, his guitar playing became a more integrated part of the ensemble with Sanae Yamada's organ and the cheap drum machine they employ.
The differences between Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo, San Francisco-based singer-guitarist Ripley Johnson’s two best-known projects, aren’t usually all that pronounced. The former group excavates deep, fuzz-satiated grooves for as many as seven or eight or, what the hell, ten minutes at a time, cresting the point where repetition becomes more absorbing than boring. Moon Duo, meanwhile, often strikes as pretty much the same thing, except with a propulsive drum machine instead of a real kit, and keyboardist Sanae Yamada backing Johnson instead of his three fellow Shjips.
Bright and confident, unafraid to revel in repetitious figures and fuzzy vocals. James Skinner 2012 “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens. ” The above quotation is taken from an essay written in 1841 entitled ‘Circles’, wherein transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson considers the human experience at length, exploring the notion of ‘genius’ and mankind’s constant striving for greater knowledge, depth and understanding.
Last year Moon Duo duo Sanae Yamada and Erik ‘Ripley’ Johnson released ‘Mazes’, a blast of hazy fuzz guitar, synth-drone and metronomic percussion. Now, they return merely a year later with second album ‘Circles’ which continues where that debut record left off. ‘Circles’ is named and inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s publication of the same name which explores human experience and man’s constant striving for greater knowledge and self-understanding.
Three years ago, Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson left his already spacey environs and pulled into his orbit Sanae Yamada for a psychedelic pairing that combines the fuzz and wandering tendencies of grand space rock with friendlier vibes. Think a heavier Vaselines, maybe, or the Jesus & Mary Chain after an analog synthesizer binge and a good day at the beach. Moon Duo's sophomore album Circles arrived after a "long winter's isolation in the Rocky Mountains," but it unfolds warm and inviting.