The first time I listened to this new Moon Duo album I have to admit that I was rather dismissive of it. I didn’t think it was that different from their previous outing, Circles, and, if anything, I thought it also sounded more like Ripley Johnston’s other band Wooden Shjips. After a few listens, including one particularly revelatory play through while out walking, I’ve completely changed my mind, and have really firmed up in my mind what Moon Duo’s music is about for me.
Like Wooden Shiips it is very easy to listen to Moon Duo on a fairly surfacial level. There’s the repetitive beat with vocal, guitar and synths weaving in and out of the tracks, but seemingly not much happening. But by listening more carefully, really stop to hear what is going on, and you get rewarded with an altogether different experience; one in which the subtle chord changes, guitar licks and synth sounds that come to the fore and reveal something of a hidden cavern of sounds which showcases Johnson’s and keyboard player Sanae Yamada’s immense musical knowledge. They bring together all sorts of genres through their music: actually not so much a hidden cavern than as series of treasure troves.
The album starts very strongly with ‘Wilding’, which is perhaps where I started to make Wooden Shjips comparisons since it does have some similarities to tracks from the ‘West’ album mainly through Johnson’s guitar work, which is perhaps unsurprising. ‘Night Beat’ is a great track with a fantastic beat to it; I imagine both these openers being really good live. So far so good, but not all that different from previous works. From here, however, I feel that the album goes off into different territories, with a different vocal approach on ‘Free The Skull’ and something more creepy and sinister on ‘Zero’, which reminded me of some early John Foxx, Cabaret Voltaire and Human League.
‘In A Cloud’ sees a complete change of pace altogether. A slow and meditative piece, it breaks up the album nicely and provides a really good comedown from the relatively frenetic opening. ‘Thieves’ takes it up a notch again, but is still relatively laid back for Moon Duo with some haunting vocals and lovely guitar work from Johnson that just washes over you.
‘Slow Down Low’ has a really vibrant punchy opening to it which I imagine will really get me dancing at a gig, and with a brilliant organ bridge from Yamada this was one of my favourite tracks. In fact this is one of those rare albums where I prefer its latter stages. ‘Ice’, my stand out track, is a brilliantly techno-influenced number with its really high-energy synths that just seem to build and build; while ‘Animal’, the lead single, is an unusually short track for the band: forceful and concise, it shows than Johnson and Yamada can make their point in two minutes every bit as effectively as then can in seven.
The final track, ‘Cross The Way’, available as a 7″ with the vinyl album, and on online versions, finishes the set off nicely, if somewhat abruptly. Of all the tracks it is the one with the boldest guitar and feels tight and compact…not one to be missed.
Overall, then, I think that this is perhaps Moon Duo’s best album to date, and the addition of John Jeffrey’s ‘live’ drums really helps with that providing more texture to the beat. This is not an album to be given one cursory listen and then forgotten about, pay it some attention and it will reward you in spades.