Stars Are The Light by Moon DuoRelease date: September 27, 2019
Label: Sacred Bones
West coast psych-rock wanderers Moon Duo are back and in bright, communal mood on their seventh album Stars Are The Light. Apparently taking disco as a jumping off point and with one of their more obvious influences Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, Spectrum) helping out on production. It finds them leaving their more arcane and inward looking side behind they develop some of the lighter, brighter moods of Occult Architecture Vol. 2. into a warm and fuzzy cosmic hippy disco happening type situation.
We shouldn’t get carried away with the idea they’ve made a disco album though, indeed on the face of it the influence is not all that apparent. Moon Duo work within a fairly narrow musical groove, that’s kind of the whole point. Shifts of emphasis and careful application of different sonic textures creating variety over an ever present pulse. What disco has brought to the party are some fun outfits, colourful moods and more of a shared sociable vibe. We’re not talking Studio 54 floor fillers here, Nile Rodgers can rest easy.
Even as it’s the very thing that draws you to them, the essential repetition at the heart of the Moon Duo sound can wear thin. It’s not hard to see why you’d think it all sounded the same if you weren’t a fan and the Occult Architecture records tried my patience a bit if I’m honest. In contrast Stars Are The Light feels weightless and breezes by pleasantly, always seeming to be over sooner than expected. Like a refreshing and slightly garish cocktail late on in the evening, it makes a welcome change and it’s effects are not immediately obvious. The title track and ‘Lost Heads’ are especially lovely, sun dazed, moments but the whole album runs together in a calm and gentle sway.
There’s a riddle in the rhythm on this record. Starting out as a duo with a drum machine before incorporating John Jeffrey’s powerful drumming into their sound, the climax of their live show has worked a blend of Moroder and motorik into a dance floor pulse bordering on techno. We might have expected some of that clout here then, but the beats seem to blend programmed and performed, dry ticks and bumps that move in shuffling patterns and recede beneath Yamada’s bubbling synths and Ripley’s gurgling stream of liquid guitar. ‘Eternal Shore’ kicks in on a percussive muzak groove of the sort Stereolab grew overly fond of before Yamada’s sighing vocals call us out to sea and the whole thing floats out, unmoored.
Odd too that they don’t seem to have noticed this previous alignment, Yamada says “It’s something we hadn’t referenced in our music before”. Although they’ve not lost that Cali lean toward the New Age, being “inspired by the space and community of a disco – a space of free self-expression through dance, fashion, and mode of being; where everyone was welcome, diversity was celebrated, and identity could be fluid; where the life force that animates each of us differently could flower.” the whole universe is a disco, pulsing to the eternal dance of the cosmos, and all that.
Rubbing up against ‘Eternal Shore’, ‘Eye 2 Eye’ stands out from the general soporific sway for having the album’s one energised and raw edged riff, it’s like something Loop might have come up with on an unlikely band beach holiday. It kicks sand over us to wake us up before the closing ‘Fever Night’. I can’t shake the feeling Spacemen 3’s ‘Big City (Everybody I Know Can Be Found Here)’ was the model, the guide going into this record and in that sense, there’s nothing that comes close. Sonic Boom’s influence, and his influences in turn, flow through most of what Moon Duo have done so it’s not as if he’s come in and changed them but he brings a restraint that nudges them closer than before to some of his own gentler music.
It would be missing the point to dismiss Stars Are The Light as lightweight when it is a purposely gossamer confection. The sound is soft and transparent, a dreamy wander just off their usual track and down to the brighter shore, it drifts by in a warm languid haze. Like falling asleep on the beach despite the sun glowing red through your eyelids, your ego dissolving in the lapping of waves and low chatter of friends.