As the name implies, Moon Duo are indeed a duo consisting of Ripley Johnson from Wooden Shjips on guitar and vocals and Sanae Yamada on organ. Formed in 2009, the group has been quite prolific, issuing several 12” singles and EPs and now their first full-length, Mazes, which is as good as anything I’ve heard this year. While Moon Duo explore a similar spacey terrain as Wooden Shjips, sonically they’re closer to The Stooges, Suicide, and Spacemen 3. Like the aforementioned groups, the Duo’s sound is deceptively primitive in structure with basic two chord jams, monotone vocals, and, in Moon Duo’s case, simple keyboard riffs set to the precise rhythms of a drum machine. Yet, there is a genius to their simplicity.
Mazes is a definite leap forward from the group’s excellent earlier material; much more song-oriented in its approach yet somehow retaining all of the hypnotic space-rock qualities that made early efforts, such as “Motorcycle, I Love You,” so special. The premise of most songs is simply to start with an insanely catchy riff, and take the ball and run with it. A perfect example is the lengthy opener “Seer,” which initially treads similar ground as Spacemen 3’s “Losing Touch With My Mind” before kicking into even higher gear. A few minutes into the piece, Johnson dazzles listeners with a guitar solo straight out of Ron Asheton’s playbook. “When You Cut” is another standout with its dark, claustrophobic rhythms that bring to mind the tension of Joy Division, Johnson repeating “I feel the walls closing in on me.” “Fallout” is just that, an explosion of pulverizing punk rock power chords, coming across as a darker Buzzcocks or Magazine. Elsewhere one hears a krautrock influence on the chilly “Scars,” when the drum machine and Yamada’s Martin Rev-like keyboard sound take center stage. The title track is perhaps the most unique composition on Mazes, mixing a guitar sound which approximates the Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” with a vocal melody bringing to mind Sisters of Mercy’s cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Emma.” Maybe I’ve been listening to too many of those old Sisters of Mercy singles lately, but other reviewers have hinted at a goth influence in Moon Duo’s work too.
In any case, as much as I dig Johnson’s day job in the Shjips, Moon Duo are even better. An old friend of mine, who’s a Spacemen 3 junkie, has already proclaimed Mazes the album of the year. I can’t really argue against that.Visit: Moon Duo | Sacred Bones
Purchase: Insound | eMusic