above: Image by Claudia Kershaw-Rae.
Born in San Francisco, Moon Duo is the brainchild of former teacher Sanae Yamada and psych veteran Ripley Johnson, also vocalist and guitarist of Wooden Shjips. The pair have recently evolved their “repeat-o rock” sound with the help of drummer John Jeffrey, releasing their third LP, Shadow of the Sun, via Sacred Bones Records earlier this month.
Created during a rare break from touring, Shadow of the Sun is influenced by the stir-crazy feelings experienced in the dark Portland basement where the album was recorded. A press release states that this was an “uneasy rest period, devoid of the constant adrenaline of performing live and the stimulation of traveling through endless moving landscapes.”
The band’s headspace informs their album’s vast psychedelia. By employing droning, repetitive riffs, Yamada and Johnson leave room for wandering guitars and calming melodies, while their sharp musicianship is complemented by distant, echoed vocals. Although it’s identified as psychedelia, and rightly so, the album’s influences are clearly more extensive and wide-ranging. Tracks like “Night Beat” are driven by their krautrock-inspired minimalist riffage, while lead single “Animal” is a fuzzy descent into punk.
Still, Moon Duo’s work is characterized best by tracks like “Wilding,” with the band’s self-described “cosmic trucker boogies”: strong, driving rhythms aided by the new drummer and the expansive guitar solos of Ripley Johnson. Meanwhile, Yamada’s modern keyboards steer the album away from unvarying nostalgia. Despite the tense, compact nature of its riffs, the album resists excessive repetition with its blissful solos and Yamada’s melodic synth work. This is evident with the drifting, sedated space rock of “In A Cloud,” which uses a more subdued acoustic approach and in the process, delivers an enjoyable ethereal environment.
Moon Duo’s latest LP, Shadow of the Sun, is an expressive piece of psychedelic music from two talented veterans of the genre. It tactfully blends their wandering solo efforts with a sharp, minimalist formula to create a unique, inventive contribution to the psych-rock scene.
Moon Duo is soon embarking on a tour of the UK and Europe, check out the dates here.