Moon Duo - Circles
It is difficult, but not impossible, for musicians to devote their energies to two separate projects at the same time. Thankfully for Moon Duo, they have stepped out of the shadow of guitarist and vocalist Ripley Johnson's "other" band Wooden Shjips, with their second album Circles proving to be a worthy follow-up to their impressive debut Mazes back in 2010. Comprising of Johnson on guitar and vocals, and Sanae Yamada on keyboards and vocals; on the surface they may be yet another psych-rock act from San Francisco, yet Circles was written and planned at their current home of Blue River, Colorado, a remote village in the Rocky Mountains. They headed back to San Francisco to finish off the recordings with Phil Manley (of Life Coach and Trans Am) and mixed them in Berlin.
Circles has been inspired by an essay of the same name by the transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson which philosophises the strive for the unattainable. Given that and the record's birth in the remote Rockys, I had expected a deeply repetitious, heavy, meditative record, but instead I got a brisk and enjoyable collection of psychedelic noise-pop songs.
The opening track 'Sleepwalker' suggests that this isn't going to be a huge departure from Wooden Shjips as it has that familiar guitar sound, although the rhythms are lighter and less pounding. The meandering dreamy melody line recalls the likes of Silver Apples and Suicide from the start, two influences that are felt throughout this record.
'I Can See' and 'Circles' are almost pop, in the way that the catchier tunes of Jesus and Mary Chain and Yo La Tengo can be called pop, and the old-fashioned effect-free guitar solo on the latter tune is actually a nice surprise.
It is not simply a case of Moon Duo playing the role of Spacemen 3 to Wooden Shjips's Loop, there is much more to it than that. Whereas the Shjips previous album West had touches of Americana and country hidden amongst the noise, here Moon Duo take their lead from early rock n rollers like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, as the reverbed vocals and simple repetition behind 'I Been Gone' suggest.
Any slight complaints about lack of variety in this music – 'Sparks' and 'Dance pt 3' are almost the same riff to be honest – are quickly diffused by some surprising turns. The previously mentioned title-track is one, and 'Free Action' is an uptempo tune recalling 70's glam-rock complete with hand claps.
More familiar territory is explored on the straightforward and dreamy 'Trails' complete with droning organ, and the epic eight-minute 'Rolling Out' closes the album with a drifting, psych-rock vibe and gorgeous repetitive riffing.
Purchase and listen
Wooden Shjips have always enthralled me. That's probably not a popular position to hold (I also liked both of the Crocodiles' albums), but it's true. It should come as no surprise that I enjoyed Moon Duo's first LP, Escape, as well as the various EPs and singles before and after that. I was anticipating Mazes, hoping for some more mid-fi kraut jams with that omnipresent amp scuzz that hooked me in. I was pleased ultimately. Immediately noticeable is the fidelity. While maintaining the typi... [read more]
Moon Duo, is the side project of Wooden Shjips guitarist and singer Ripley Johnson. Johnson and collaborator Sanae Yamanda are known for creating sweeping soundscapes, with a goth slant. The weapons of choice are guitar, keyboards and organ, with a dash of feedback for good measure. The latest EP is loosely Halloween themed, so with that in mind, grab your pumpkin lantern and follow me. [read more]