Album Review: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol.1

Moon Duo have had the same mission statement since their first full length LP back in 2011, and they’ve kept to that mission statement. What is it? Simple, find a groove and stick to it. Moon Duo’s sound is all about finding a groove, locking into it, and riding it out for as long as you can. Their music seems to be this space-y, animated rock and roll that you’d hear in some old biker movie. They take cues from old garage rock, the psych scene, and a hefty dose of Suicide’s black magic. Wooden Shjips’s Ripley Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada lay down some serious voodoo on their records as Moon Duo. They like to get weird, but they want you to shake it while you’re getting weird.

Over the course of three LPs, EPs, live albums and remix affairs Johnson and Yamada have stuck to the formula religiously. No real straying from the sound. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just is. On their fourth full-length, the two part Occult Architecture, Moon Duo have given into the darkness. The first part of this opus, Occult Architecture Vol.1, lays down serious grooves like we’ve come to expect from the band, but there’s a darker tone here. This is tweaker death cult groove music. It’s an ode to the dark side of the moon and all those things you fear are in those shadowy hills in the distance. But instead of painting fearful, Fangoria-ready pictures, Moon Duo bow in honor of dark nature and embrace the power that lives within the action of giving into the Yin.

Occult Architecture Vol. 1 is 7 tracks that add up to nearly 50 minutes of driving, late night grooves. “The Death Set” starts things out right with a Moon Duo-approved chugging rhythm. Johnson lays down some space-y guitar over a driving tempo and Yamada’s dreamy synth work. The chorus even sports an almost 80s vibe complete with hand claps. “Cold Fear” sounds like early Depeche Mode breaking things down with Bauhaus. Synsonic drums, wavering synthesizer, and ominous fuzzed-out guitar worm their way into your head like some spectral being. We’ve heard moments like this before on past Moon Duo albums, but they were fleeting. It’s nice to hear Johnson and Yamada going head first into their darker tendencies. “Creepin'” is a hard-driving, pedal to the metal rocker. You can imagine going 120 mph down open road as this blasts in your ear holes. “Cross-Town Fade” is a wonky, jittery jam that sports big rhythms, fuzzy bass, and wonky keys. Johnson sounds ghostly as he sings like Alan Vega strutting on some spectral plane. This is an absolute killer tune, and it descends into a barrage of noise and beauty.

Giving the album concept a little background, Johnson said this about Occult Architecture’s spiritual design, “The concept of the dark/light, two-part album came as we were recording and mixing the songs, beginning in the dead of winter and continuing into the rebirth and blossoming of the spring. There’s something really powerful about the changing of the seasons in the Northwest, the physical and psychic impact it has on you, especially after we spent so many years in the seasonal void of California. I became interested in gnostic and hermetic literature around that time, especially the relationship between music and occult qualities and that fed into the whole vibe.” Given in that context, Occult Architecture Vol. 1 feels even headier. “Cult Of Moloch” is an ode to a Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice, and it lives up to that concept. One of the heavier tracks Moon Duo have recorded, but still sports Johnson’s wiggly, bluesy guitar noodles as the song embraces the chaos. “Will Of The Devil” has a dark 80s vibe, while the epic album closer “White Rose” shimmies and shakes for over 10 minutes. A motorik beat carries the song along for the duration and it’s glorious. It’s classic Moon Duo. It’s classic death cult moto-psych rock.

For those that felt the groove machine known as Moon Duo had been played out after Shadows Of The Sun you’re in for a surprise. Johnson and Yamada have tweaked the formula a bit and Occult Architecture Vol.1 sounds like a band re-vitalized and focused. Focused on bringing the darkness into the light. Just a little, anyways.


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