San Francisco duo print starlit patterns of sound upon your ears.
Brad Barrett 2011
Engulfing your listener in sound has often been likened to a wall of noise, but in Moon Duo's case it's more like a dome of sine waves, an aural planetarium. You can pick out constellations which sometimes form images of familiar things. But you sense that the guitarist of bellowing psychedelic band Wooden Shjips, Ripley Johnson, and his synth-playing partner Sanae Yamada are simply employing drones and minimal musicality to maximum effect, whether it imitates, evokes or accidentally stumbles upon anything else in rock history or not.
Their first two EPs, Killing Time from 2009 and Escape from 2010, were distinctly heady works which sounded more menacing and strung-out than their debut album, Mazes, does. Here Ripley plunders his own past works, oscillating force-fields plastered across organ-synth lines, relentless fuzz guitar and metronomic drum machines. Ripley's echoed, drawled vocals are almost inconsequential, noticeable most when they're no longer there.
The title-track's main riff, a relatively snappy, garage rock nod, smacks (weirdly) of The Futureheads' Favours For Favours if played by a 12-bar blues band, a total accident coming from hammering at an instrument so well utilised for decades. Here the oppressive weight of sound is dissipated and distributed throughout the song with elegant blues solos wreathed in phasers. When You Cut's keyboard vamp is vaguely reminiscent of Oneida's History's Greatest Navigators – never a bad thing – while Ripley grinds his molten tone underneath, a growling generator to drive the song into shimmering oases.
Though the construction is as simple and repetitive as anything by Ripley's other projects throughout, it's on Mazes that a relative lightness of touch – the chords not quite as forceful, the melodies not quite as embedded in the vortex – helps to make more of the playful side of drone rock. When the harshness is removed (and though we lose some of the incidental and fascinating harmonics and noises), there's enough of both sides of the band to print starlit patterns of sound upon your ears.
It's probably fair to say that the unexpected jauntiness at times, and the constant repetition, will not appeal to those who gravitate towards melodic hooks and on-a-dime time changes; each track is one massive hook with dynamics simply tossed aside in favour of volume and steadfastness. Each song remains a steady, stellar journey to the next piercing solo until the noise removes itself after a surprisingly brief 50 minutes and suddenly there's a big gaping black hole where Moon Duo were. All that remains is to re-listen.