Occult Architecture Volume One by Moon Duo

Release date: February 3, 2017
Label: Sacred Bones Records

Just about every music writer out there has beaten me to the punch on reviewing this. But hey, the album comes out today and I am writing the review on time, even if it might not get posted for a day or so. So who are Moon Duo? They’re from Portland, Oregon, and much like their music, the band prefers to remain in the shade with sunglasses, identities obscured by dark swirls of droning psych and space rock. I’ve heard their music before, but haven’t let it inhabit my brain so closely as I am now. This is their fourth proper album, with Volume 2 to follow later this year.

According to the band, this album is ‘a psychedelic opus in two separate volumes – an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.’ Written and recorded in Portland, this two-part epic reflects the hidden energies of rainclouds and sunshine and the deep creep of Northwest forests along with their effect on the psyche, inspired by the occult and esoteric literature of Mary Anne Atwood, Aleister Crowley, Colin Wilson, and Manly P. Hall.

Comprised of guitarist Ripley Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada, the band excels at sonic tapestries crammed full of lysergic drones and cosmic interludes. No doubt influenced by Krautrock on some level, it also appears they’ve imbibed punk’s energy and pop’s melodic side in equal parts. All the songs are catchy and quite different in texture, instead of just songs that all mesh together with no character to make them stand apart.

Take ‘The Death Set’, the opening track on this album. It has a familiar and comfortable main riff, and will probably remind you of some of your favorite artists. That said, I like the way Ripley and Sanae’s vocals twine together, and the strong percussive element has me bopping along to this. ‘Cold Fear’ is the first single, and its dark, ominous vibe smartly meshes post punk with droning psych. It has a catchy chorus, and slithers a bit like Legendary Pink Dots through your synapses. ‘Creepin’ is a bit of melodic garage rock that might well be the next single. I love the watery synths and foot tappin’ beat. “Cross-Town Fade”’is a lengthy, seven minute drone that extends into a drugged out jam with walls of feedback.

‘Cult of Moloch’ is a mesmerizing tune that initially rattles the skull like a jackhammer but morphs into billowing waves of trippy guitar. It sounds like they even threw some tabla into the mix; very cool of them to do that. I am even reminded of vintage Black Sabbath at one point, but that could be my fevered imagination.

Certainly Sabbath explored similar occult themes, at least on the surface, but I suspect Moon Duo are far more serious about it. ‘Will of the Devil’ has an 80s feel, similar to the material Paul Roland has been putting out for decades. Marrying dark subject matter to light, happy music has been done before, and Moon Duo achieve a satisfying balance on this song. The final song ‘White Rose’ is a ten minute song that effortlessly combines space rock with a garage feel, with plinks of piano and a fast moving beat. There’s plenty of jamming going on, but it would also work in a shorter format. In summary, this is a fine release from a talented group, and I look forward to hearing Volume 2.

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