I came late to Moon Duo via stumbling across frontman Ripley Johnson’s rundown of his favorite psych records in The Guardian. (Johnson also plays guitar in Wooden Shjips, another band I’ve slept on, regrettably.) The list’s eclectic range of artists—from Funkadelic to Royal Trux to J Dilla—combined with the fact that Johnson looks straight out of central casting for a Rob Zombie B-movie, made me think that at the very least I needed to give a listen to Occult Architecture Vol. 1 (Sacred Bones), the first installment of the band’s self-described, two-part “psych opus” and the fourth release from the duo rounded out by keyboardist Sanae Yamada. (Drummer John Jeffrey also contributes to the recordings.)
The band’s label describes the project as a “hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night,” which makes sense given Johnson and Yamada began recording in the dead of winter and continued into the rebirth months of spring. This is presumably the colder, darker of the two volumes, which is fine by me; I like my electronic fuzz-rock to have a slight air of menace.
“The Death Set” starts things off with a wall of droning synth effects and a garage riff that is properly dirty and noisy, but still gets your head bobbing, a nice complement to Johnson’s spaced-out, woebegone vocals. “Creepin’” is another scuzzy guitar rocker that has Johnson sounding a little like Thurston Moore for the first few seconds of each stanza before the song goes off into its inevitable prog meanderings.
Moon Duo is at turns mellow and sinister, dark and danceable, and prone to jammy excursions over repetitive grooves that aptly evoke comparisons to ’70s Krautrock bands like Neu! and Can. The album’s stellar second track, “Cold Fear,” is made of some big goth synth changes that will appeal to those who enjoy Ladytron at their witchiest. Possessed by the same new wave sensibilities, “Will of the Devil” begs to be played at club-level volume as well. Suicide is an obvious influence, and the bursts of repetitive, staccato electronic sounds that underpinned many of that seminal group’s most notable songs can be heard here in “Cross-Town Fade” and “White Rose,” which closes out the album.
But is this record good? To these ears, it’s one of the essential releases of 2017. I’m eagerly awaiting the second half, though I have to say I’d be perfectly happy even if spring never came.