Release Date: Mar 3, 2015
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Having guided his main mothership Wooden Shjips steadily across the plains of psych-tinged rock since 2006, Erik “Ripley” Johnson decided to form the side launching escape pod of Moon Duo with his partner Sanae Yamada as an outlet for his more pharmaceutically driven krautrock side. Five years and five albums later, Ripley has landed with Shadow of the Sun, and it sees Moon Duo arriving at a place that was possibly beyond even Ripley’s expectations when they began the project. Last year’s Live At Ravenna, the band’s sole live album, obsessively released to simultaneously announce and showcase the recruitment of drummer and newly permanent member John Jeffrey, offered a glimpse of the type of construction that lies at the heart of Shadow of the Sun.
Starting out as a stripped-down side-project to Ripley Johnson’s Wooden Shjips ensemble, and economical in sound and logistics, Moon Duo (the other half of the band is Sanae Yamada, his partner both in and out of music) are arguably eclipsing their parent outfit, as their show at London’s Southbank Centre last year and this, their third full album (EPs and 12” releases also abound), demonstrates. Their name really is dualistic: not just that they’ve traditionally played as a duo (though their reliance on drum machines and samples has now yielded to drummer John Jeffrey joining them), but, as Johnson put it, in “the idea of two moons, like Phobos and Deimos of Mars”. They are separate orbits around one constant: a drone rock that still finds ample room for shade and light, and an invigoratingly danceable beat with heavy-duty space-rock at its molten core.
After decamping to Portland with new drummer John Jeffrey and setting up shop in a basement there, Moon Duo set about recording their third album, Shadow of the Sun. Working with a drummer for the first time brings subtle and important changes to Moon Duo's sound, freeing them from the precision of drum machines and opening up their sometimes claustrophobic approach just a little. Of course, Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada are still guided by a love of motorik rhythms and the band Suicide, and Johnson still gets a wonderfully simple and tough sound out of his guitar, but there are more variations on the basic template they've established.
In a land far, far away lies a musical haven known by the mystical name of Portland-Oregon and therein resides a wizard known as Ripley. Ripley shares his existence with his partner, the equally mysterious Sanae Yamada and together they formed a presence in their new world after travelling to Earth from another dimension where magical psychedelic splendour was abound, giving their identity a name as they sought sanctuary in pastures new – Moon Duo. 2010 AD saw the extra-terrestrial beings unleash their spiritual, synthesised space-rock EP debut on an unsuspecting world, blending seamlessly into their new surroundings by carefully naming their creations so as not to arouse suspicion amongst the human race of their true identity.
The third album by Portland’s Moon Duo is something of a musical mood ring; how you hear the music really depends on your state of mind while it’s playing. I’ve listened to Shadow of the Sun over a dozen times, and its effect on me kept changing dependent upon how I was feeling at the time. If I was rushed or in a crummy mood, the nine tracks of motorik psychedelia felt far too repetitive and janky, revealing flaws in the internal logic of Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada’s songwriting.
Conspicuously swinging his arms and swiveling his head back and forth, a young man seemingly ripped from the Haight-Ashbury heyday strolls past a “No Skateboarding” sign. It seems clear where this is going, but instead of simply sticking it to the man, he decides to get creative. Pulling an erect pitchfork out of the dirt like a conveniently placed Excalibur, he tosses the garden tool down on to a flattened traffic control barricade, riding the unlikely contraption over a row of wooden rollers.
With the addition of Canadian drummer John Jeffrey, psychedelic stars Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada have effectively turned their band name, Moon Duo, into a misnomer. Jeffrey, their third member, keeps time on their third LP, Shadow of the Sun, the group's followup to 2012's Circles. Despite the shifting dynamic that the new member brings, Moon Duo capitalize on their usual formula: fuzzed out riffs, Santana solos and droning, monotone vocals.
“The day will come when people won’t listen just because they’re a fan of my other band, so it’s up to us to keep working on writing new songs and if people like it that’s great. ” At the advent of his third full-length – particularly one as an accomplished, compelling a listen as Shadow of the Sun – it feels as though that day has come. Whether he meant it as such or not, Ripley Johnson’s laidback spot of crystal-ball gazing in 2013 has proved a manifesto of sorts for the band’s movements ever since.
Psychedelia has two speeds: Either it elevates you into an altered consciousness, or it lulls you to sleep like so much television static. With Shadow of the Sun, their third full-length effort, Moon Duo often approach the former state, and only occasionally slip into the latter. Singer-guitarist Ripley Johnson and singer-keyboardist Sanae Yamada are joined on record by drummer John Jeffrey, and the consistent use of live drums—Jeffrey was only added to the band’s full-time roster after their 2013 European Tour—does a lot to imbue the winding, floating sound with some physical power.
The first thing that needs to be said about Moon Duo: if you can't bear repetition, they're probably not for you. The duo of singer/guitarist Ripley Johnson and singer/keyboardist Sanae Yamada makes hypnotic, psychedelic jams fit for any trip, be it road or drug. Each song on Shadow of the Sun lays down a single riff or chord and runs it into the ground.
Bestial is an appropriate word to describe Moon Duo’s new album ‘Shadow of the Sun’. Their new record is their fourth release since Wooden Shjips member Ripley Johnson teamed up with Sanae Yamada to find new ways of filling their time at an almost prolific and enviable rate. Now joined by John Jeffery on drums, the album is a result of an uncomfortable rest period, with what the group describes as a beast that emerges from a dark Portland basement.
Moon Duo — Shadow of the Sun (Sacred Bones)Moon Duo, formerly just a pair of grooving long-hairs with a drum machine, take up with a drummer for this album. But as when the Jesus & Mary Chain did the opposite—dropping their drummer for a click box—you can hardly tell the change. This band falls into their sound naturally, and not much can be done to disturb their rolling guitar-synth pulse.
On paper, the addition of a live a drummer for Moon Duo's third LP, Shadow Of The Sun, would seem to mark a major break from the past for the Portland band. Before John Jeffrey stepped behind the kit in 2013 – officially making the Duo a trio – keyboardist Sanae Yamada and guitarist Erik "Ripley" Johnson (both of whom also sing) had crafted their drone-heavy psych largely with the help of a drum machine. Not that Moon Duo didn't produce a full, serotonin-drenched sound with Yamada's pulsing organs and Johnson's fuzz blasts, particularly on 2012's Circles.
Moon Duo, the long-running drone collaboration between Wooden Shjips founder Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada, makes its compositions out of the tight grinding friction of repetitive riffs, overlaid with the serenity of dreamy half-heard vocals. Their best cuts find a balance between striving and meditation, the angst prickling amid layers of time-bending krautish propulsion like static electricity in layers of blankets. The idea seems to be to wind up a steady, simple riff, grind it out like clockwork, and then stipple this metronomic landscape with light and shadow via Johnson’s free-form guitar.
Moon Duo sit at the friendlier, brighter end of the psych rock spectrum while still maintaining cool-groove heaviness. It's verbed-out cosmic, peppered with tambourine and handclaps, and driven by Ripley Johnson's vocals, which are sweeter than you'd expect from such a rugged-looking woodsman. Occasionally, like on In A Cloud, bandmate Sanae Yamada adds soft and light backup vocals, though warm organ fuzz is her predominant contribution.