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Alternative & Indie - Released September 27, 2019 | Sacred Bones Records

The sounds that emanate from the speakers when first dipping into Moon Duo's seventh studio album, Stars Are the Light, are different enough from previous works that it wouldn't be all that wrong to wonder if maybe there was a mix-up at the pressing plant. "Flying" is languid and hazy, with Ripley Johnson's guitar dialed deep back in the mix, sequenced synths up front, a shuffling slow-motion funk beat slowly pushing the song forward while Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada's vocals are relaxed to the point of somnambulance, even more than usual. It doesn't sound much like classic Moon Duo and only sharp-eared listeners who remember the track "Mirror's Edge" from 2017's Occult Architecture, Vol. 2 might recognize the new direction this track, and most of the album, is heading. Working with Sonic Boom on the mixing desk and heavily inspired by shimmering disco and the ambient pop of the '90s, the duo cast their old ways of working and sounding aside in favor of something lighter, softer, and more sparkly. Apart from the occasional bit that sounds a little undercooked, Stars works pretty well as a slice of escapist, warm-blooded dance-pop. In songs like "The World and the Sun" or the title track, where the drums rattle back and forth, the bass gets a groove going, and the guitar and synth give off glittering sparks, the band bump right up against the kind of trancey, blissed-out feel they are aiming for. The slower pieces don't work quite as well, though even these are made pleasant by Johnson's snaking guitar leads ("Fall [In Your Love]") and the expansive mixing Mr. Boom provides. Hidden near the end of the album, coming just as eyelids are starting to droop, "Eye 2 Eye" delivers the churning guitars and propulsive beats one might expect from the band, only in this case they sound out of context and a little harsh. Ending the record with the calmest, most tripped-out ballad of the bunch, "Fever Night," doesn't quite repair the damage done, and it only points out the uneven nature of the record. When it's good and the band comes across as confident and focused, it feels like they made the right choice to head off into the pillowy dreamland. Other times, when a duff synth sound or a tinny drum machine lets them down, it's hard not to miss the traditional Moon Duo approach. ~ Tim Sendra
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 3, 2015 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 3, 2017 | Sacred Bones Records

Moon Duo have one trick that they've been doing since their first record came out in 2009. Guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson and keyboardist/vocalist Sanae Yamada make droning, motorik psychedelic jams that sound like the soundtrack for a road trip to inner space. Some of their albums have harnessed this trick into something magical and unique (Mazes, Shadow of the Sun); some have coasted on their trademarked sound without breaking a sweat (Circles). Arriving in 2017, Occult Architecture, Vol. 1 is a bit of a stumble into the latter category. After making a shockingly varied and expansive album with 2015's Shadow of the Sun, the duo, plus drummer John Jeffrey, spends too much time here letting songs roll on (and on) without any tension or dynamics. The guitars sound suitably blown-out and fuzzy, the keyboards provide drones and the occasional blip of melody, and Jeffrey is strong on the tracks he plays on, but too often the songs just seem to lay back and hang out contentedly instead of making a splash. There are the occasional moments when they rise above autopilot to do something interesting, like on the opening "The Death Set," which has swooning chord changes and some surprising new wave synth sounds. Or the frantically pulsing "Cross-Town Fade," where Johnson's guitars sound raw and nervy and the energy levels are pumped up close to ten. "Will of the Devil" is maybe the most interesting song of the bunch, as it goes beyond their usual two-chord approach to add a couple extra, as well as some spooky new wave keys. There aren't enough times when Moon Duo change things up, go outside their locked-in comfort zone, or give the listener something to hold onto beyond the pleasingly psychedelic sound they've honed to a point. For an album that purports to be about the darkness of winter, the powers of magick, and the outer limits of consciousness, they don't bring a lot of depth or passion to the subjects. It really sounds like a basic Moon Duo album, which is still a good thing, but just not as special as it could have been if they had taken another step like they did with Shadow of the Sun. This feels less like a step in any direction than it does a pleasantly trippy holding pattern. ~ Tim Sendra
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 5, 2017 | Sacred Bones Records

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. Vol. 1 dealt out few surprises, sounding a bit too familiar and a little uninspired. Vol. 2 has a couple songs that stick to the basic Moon Duo sound and do a fine job of it, namely the expansive "Sevens," which holds down the middle of the album like an anchor, and the rambling "New Dawn," which adds some nice vocal harmonies and features some nimble fretboard explorations from Johnson. "Lost in Light" sticks pretty close to the formula, but adds some majestic drum fills, a sweeping chorus, and some big-sounding synths, taking the sound to epic new heights. The remaining two songs take the usual Moon Duo sound and give it a big twist. "Mirror's Edge" is seven-plus minutes of what sounds like the Stone Roses warming up to play "Fool's Gold" while imbibing some serious cold meds. It rides a basic groove and some funky guitar strumming into oblivion, taking the listener's attention right with it. Much, much better is the album-ending "Crystal World," which shuffles along in a stoned glam rock strut for ten minutes while Johnson meanders up and down his guitar's neck, plucking out half-formed ideas and weird combos of notes. It's mind-numbing in a good way, emptying the brain of all rational thought and emotion. Everything becomes the strut and it feels like it will never end. It does, though, leaving behind a really weird album. While there is plenty of good stuff going on, there is a little too much conservative playing and a little too much left-field oddness for the record to truly hold together. Occult Architecture, Vol. 2 is preferable to the first volume, but it pales next to the band's next work. ~ Tim Sendra
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 2, 2012 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 19, 2018 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 27, 2019 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released August 5, 2019 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 5, 2018 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 2, 2017 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 10, 2019 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 29, 2011 | Sacred Bones Records

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. Check the title track, where Yamada's organ plays a lithe, sprightly pop melody and Johnson's guitar punches a trebly chord sequence adding heft. There's a cheap drum machine to keep the rhythm pulsing, acknowledging Krautrock's Motorik influence. Johnson's singing isn't buried in the mix the way it usually is; it's at the same level as the instruments, and the psych-pop melody governs the tune, even when he plays short solos between verses. The song drives and pushes and percolates. It's a got a bona fide hook and is relatively short. "Scars" follows it with less punch and a more laid-back, heartbeat rhythm; but once more, Johnson relies heavily on a pronounced melodic vamp as Yamada's organ shimmers and swoops around the foreground. His guitar is here, but it's hidden behind a Michael Rother-esque wall of effects. "When You Cut," with its handclaps and blasting two-chord jump, is a bona fide dance jam for psych heads. "Run Around' employs a shambling Bo Diddley shuffle in what feels like an update of "Who Do You Love." "In the Sun" sounds like ? and the Mysterians jamming with Suicide. That's not to say the spaced-out Moon Duo is gone. Opening cut "Seer" is organ-dominated, but Johnson's effects-laden lead guitar chugs in to open things up a bit. Likewise, "Fall Out" has a more complex guitar line at the foreground but eventually breaks apart and heads for the stratosphere, yet ends before it gets there Finally, "Goners," at 7:41, takes on the Stooges' nasty minimal riffing, adds a Motorik rhythm, and a John Cippolina-esque guitar solo to reflect a "traditional" Moon Duo jam. Mazes is all about songwriting growth, lyric melody, more elaborate textures, and accessible riffs. They underscore Moon Duo's heavy stuff and offer something refreshingly different in the process. ~ Thom Jurek
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 1, 2016 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released December 6, 2016 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released August 19, 2014 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 19, 2011 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 20, 2013 | Sacred Bones Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 22, 2013 | Sacred Bones Records