I think it’s safe to say that Moon Duo’s Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada have found their groove. Not that they didn’t have a groove over the last several albums they’ve released since 2009, but with the release earlier in the year of Occult Architecture Vol. 1 they seemed to have found that little extra spark. There’s only so much groovin’ and motorik beats you can create over the course of 8 years before you begin to repeat yourself. 2015s Shadow of the Sun was yet another stellar collection of tunes by Johnson and Yamada, but you could tell things were starting to sound somewhat same-y. Great tunes we’ve heard before, but maybe in a different key or a different tempo. So before Moon Duo burnt out into exquisite oblivion, these two decided to rethink their approach and come at their songs with a new mindset. The concept of dark and light were brought in to create a double album that each part would be released a few months apart.
Occult Architecture was born.
Vol. 1 dealt with the darkness. It was the Yin. It was the feminine side of the coin that dealt with night and darkness. The music captured that perfectly, too. Driving rhythms and dark psychedelia pushed that album into new territory for Moon Duo without compromising their signature Kraut/Psych flavor. Occult Architecture Vol. 2 has arrived and with it comes what the band calls “the bright side of the hill”. It’s the male side of the coin; sun, light, and the spirit of heaven. I think Moon Duo have given us their best work yet with Vol. 2. It’s absolutely stunning.
“New Dawn” clears the dark clouds that Vol. 1s “White Rose” left us with. The song opens with some electric piano which then turns into big drums and that phaser-infused big riff we’ve come to know and love from Ripley Johnson. The vocals feel uplifted as Johnson and Yamada sing in unison. These two sound bigger than the sum of their parts. Two people shouldn’t sound this big. Even with the similar tones and grooves there’s an airiness here that I’ve not heard before. “Mirror’s Edge” could easily be a b-side from Achtung Baby. It’s a sly, funky rhythm that takes its time slinking and sliding into your ear. There’s a subtlety and nuance here that I’ve never noticed before in the Moon Duo canon. “Sevens” is a familiar vibe. It’s one we’ve heard before, but there’s a brightness to it. You can almost picture the sun peaking from behind the clouds ready to make its appearance.
Despite the heavy occult lean and goth-y undertones that Moon Duo have dabbled in for all these years, I’ve always had this feeling that Johnson and Yamada have always had a bright and beautiful, sun-soaked ballad in them. “Lost in Light” is that song. It hangs in the air as you listen to it. It’s most definitely a Moon Duo song, but it ascends to the skies bathed in ghostly synths and Johnson’s light touch on guitar. It’s a absolute stunner, and one of the best tracks on this album.
The album closes on the ethereal “The Crystal World”. It’s a mix of NEU!s penchant for looping and repetitive motifs with Harmonia’s dreamy existentialism. It’s actually a perfect way to end a near perfect record.
I’m not sure where Moon Duo can go from here. I feel they’ve achieved near perfection with their Occult Architecture volumes. They’d dabbled in the darkness in the past, but with Occult Architecture Vol. 2 they show that their black magic is equally, if not more, engaging in the light of day.