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Moon Duo - Mazes

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Artist: Moon Duo

Album: Mazes

Label: Sacred Bones

Review date: Apr. 20, 2011

On Moon Duo’s initial releases, the band sounded like little more than an amusing side-project. Here was Erik “Ripley” Johnson, guitarist for San Francisco psych heavies Wooden Shjips, along with keyboardist Sanae Yamada, tearing down familiar krautrock-and-acid-tabs roadways. Decent stuff for late-night brain-fry, maybe, but hardly revelatory.

If debut full-length Escape was a curiosity, Mazes is contemporary psych gold. Recorded in Berlin, the album manages to sound both more "pop" and more experimental than previous outings. The key to Moon Duo’s success — and, for that matter, that of Wooden Shjips — has always been an uncanny ability to measure out a perfect prescription from the band’s caldron of influences. The mass of bands mining the same psych/kraut territory has become staggering in recent years, yet the Moon Duo of Mazes is a rarity: a band able to consistently drop tracks that sound well-steeped in psych history, yet rarely stumble into the sub-par hallucination-by-numbers themes trotted out by many of its peers.

Sadly, the weakest spot on Mazes is the opening number. “Seer” is in many ways what one would expect from a new Moon Duo track: dazed vocals, desert-baked clumps of guitar fuzz and wobbly keyboard gurgle, all snapped back from an encroaching haze by an appropriately flayed guitar solo. Sound intriguing? It is, but it’s exactly what this band has done before, so the packed punch ends up being little more than a tap on the shoulder.

Thankfully, the second, eponymous track, takes mere seconds to reveal that Moon Duo’s sound has been dually fleshed- and freaked-out. Here the guitars sound softer, yet not weaker, the keyboards swinging their simple melodies are nervy and vital — it’s the sound of a mature band, and it’s catchy as fuck. This is road-trip psych that will tease the ears of anyone along for the ride.

Wooden Shjips always understood the importance of space in the midst of its seemingly cluttered sound. Here, Johnson seems to delight in the ability to further expand upon this concept. The studio room tone that seeps into the percussion on “Scars” adds as much atmosphere as the drums themselves. “When You Cut” verges on dance-pop, yet claustrophobic clubbiness is skipped in favor of a casual, if deftly-built sprawl. Even when Johnson sings “some things drive me out of my mind / I feel the walls closing in on me,” the musical climate is all propulsive freedom, rather than constriction.

If the proceedings get a bit “same-y” at times, it’s with good reason. Johnson understands the concept of expansion through repetition and uses it to great effect. As the album tumbles to a close with the eight-minute “Goners,” the band’s operational scheme seems stunning in its clarity.

By Ethan Covey

Other Reviews of Moon Duo

Escape / Killing Time


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