Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When the Portland-based space-rockers released Vol 1 of this duality recently, they described it as being yin, with yang to follow. "Dense paint rendering storms on canvas," RC said, describing the oppressive, heavy winter that starts this sequence. Lightness was promised in due course. New Dawn, opening here, immediately dispels its elder sibling's denseness like the air after a thunderstorm, all vibrant and renewed, purifying and cleansing their sound palate into the Balearic bliss of the following song, Mirror's Edge.
Moon Duo makes rock'n'roll comfort food. Since they debuted in 2009, their sound has progressively gotten smoother and more sugary. Ripley Johnson melts his singing into the music, rarely breaking character with yelps or screams, while his guitar stays mellifluous even as its fuzz gets denser. Sanae Yamada's keyboard melodies lilt snugly, while simple beats--once executed with a drum machine, now handled by John Jeffrey--swing like a hammock.
Over the course of three (and a half with the inclusion of Occult Architecture Vol. 1) previous albums, Moon Duo have found a fascinating middle-ground between out-there experimentation and tightly constricted music. Guitarist Ripley Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada build and build, carefully adding sounds until the music starts to swallow everything nearby.
If Moon Duo's first album of 2017, Occult Architecture, Vol. 1, suffered from not taking enough chances, their second album, Occult Architecture, Vol. 2, may take a few too many, though in the end it turns out to be a more enjoyable listening experience. That first album saw the duo of guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson and keyboardist/vocalist Sanae Yamada hewing closely to the sonic template the band had established over the years, with Johnson's psychedelic riffs and wanderings lashed down by Yamada's tightly wound keys, lately fortified by drummer John Jeffrey's pounding drums.
Steeped in music with a history of unpredictability, Moon Duo have reached a cosmic level of consistency. Guitarist Ripley Johnson (also of Wooden Shjips ) and keyboardist Sanae Yamada have avoided the steady rain in Portland, Oregon, since the end of the '00s by staying dry in the basement sculpting thick, hash-hazed compositions. Already close to being fully realized on early albums like Escape and Mazes, Moon Duo are one of those bands that serve as a model example of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" ethos being successfully implemented.
Moon Duo yield vastly different results with the same basic setup on their second Occult Architecture album. Released in the dead of winter, its predecessor was as cold and claustrophobic as a gloomy crawlspace. Vol. 2 retains vestiges of that sound, but it's airy and celebratory where its predecessor was dense and foreboding.
The release of Moon Duo's fourth album, Occult Architecture: Volume 1, was a timely and important response for the Portland-based duo back in February. Often choosing to follow a familiar, tried-and-tested path, Moon Duo have sometimes struggled to emerge both from the shadows of Wooden Shijps and from the psych bands who inspired them. Where Spacemen 3 and Silver Apples regularly veered off course to dizzying effect, Moon Duo became noted for a more linear career trajectory.
When they released Occult Architecture, Vol. 1 in February 2017, guitar-warlock Ripley Johnson and keyboardist, Sanae Yamada explained that the album represented the darker, sensual side of human nature, the yin. It’s companion, the just-released Occult Architecture, Vol. 2 is intended as the yang, the lighter, active side, an awakening.
Spring has come and with it the second in Portland, Oregon pairing Moon Duo's brace of albums celebrating the forces of darkness and light. Comprising guitarist Ripley Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada, Moon Duo's latest is an "intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons". It is, in other words, a load of vacuous hippie bollocks but that does not, nor ever has, precluded the possibility of good sounds.