Release Date: Mar 29, 2011
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Neo-Psychedelia, Psychedelic/Garage, Hi-NRG
Moon Duo's earlier recordings reflected enough of guitarist/songwriter Ripley Johnson's other band, Wooden Shjips, to make his fans happy. Even if this two-person group -- Johnson and organist Sanae Yamada -- relied heavily on fixed rhythms since they didn't have a drummer, the guitars soloed and sprawled in hypnotic, free-form psych. The approach on Mazes is different, even if they keep some elementals intact.
For artists from David Bowie to the Birthday Party to Liars, seeking refuge to record in Berlin has resulted in some very dark, very far-out releases. So when psychedelic pop twosome Moon Duo-- which features Wooden Shjips' Erik "Ripley" Johnson on guitar and fellow San Franciscan Sanae Yamada on keyboards-- decided to head to the German capital to craft their second proper full-length, Mazes, one could reasonably expect the results to be a bit tortured or mysterious. Where their noticeably toothy debut, Escape, often threatened to slip backwards into the scuzz-laden heavy-psych of a Wooden Shjips record, Mazes is an exercise in accessibility and concision, using familiar, melodic pop templates to support their drone and krautrock tendencies.
The two principal criticisms levied at Wooden Shjips are that a) all their songs sound the same and b) they are derivative. An appropriate response to the former accusation can be found within the liner notes to the Dischord label’s 20 year anniversary box set, and their persuasive defence of Lungfish; 'Critics have complained that Lungfish seem to only play one song over and over, but those in the know say this: "yeah, but what an incredible song!"' One reviewer of the Shjips’ 2009 album Dos in a reputable avant garde music mag was particularly offended by the latter transgression, accusing the band of 'meaningless pastiche… and "whatever, dude" solipsism. ' And by god, if there’s one thing you don’t want to be accused of then it’s ‘whatever, dude’ solipsism.
Maybe they’re called Moon Duo because there are two members in the band; but another guess is that they play dark fuzzy rock that drones on two chords. However, with their new album these two seem to let in a little sun—and every now and then, even a third chord. Now that may be a bit of a gross characterization, but it does exemplify how Mazes builds on the template set down by the previous Moon Duo releases, the debut EP, Killing Time, and the Woodsist album, Escape.
San Francisco duo print starlit patterns of sound upon your ears. Brad Barrett 2011 Engulfing your listener in sound has often been likened to a wall of noise, but in Moon Duo's case it's more like a dome of sine waves, an aural planetarium. You can pick out constellations which sometimes form images of familiar things. But you sense that the guitarist of bellowing psychedelic band Wooden Shjips, Ripley Johnson, and his synth-playing partner Sanae Yamada are simply employing drones and minimal musicality to maximum effect, whether it imitates, evokes or accidentally stumbles upon anything else in rock history or not.