by Sean Redmond
Moon Duo embark on another spaced-out voyage with Occult Architecture Vol. 1, the first of a two-part project centered on the light/dark binary. This is the darker half of the work, appropriate for a winter release, and was inspired by the changing of the seasons when the band relocated from San Francisco to Portland, OR. This makes for a good story, but you’d be hard pressed to hear a shift in sound. The album is somewhat denser than its predecessors—heavier, more claustrophobic—but if you’ve heard one Moon Duo album, you know what to expect: motorik grooves and two-chord drones overlaid with fuzzed-out and heavily reverbed guitar solos. The band occupies a singular space in today’s musical landscape, fusing Suicide-inspired pop with heavy psych -- they’ve been presenting variations on this theme since their inception.
That said, not all Moon Duo recordings are created equal. At their best, they take their formula and spin it into something distinct, as with “When You Cut” (off 2011’s Mazes), a stripped-down dance-punk number that would have fit nicely on DFA, and “In a Cloud” (off 2015’s Shadow of the Sun), a Moon Duo version of a ballad. The addition of drummer John Jeffrey has allowed the band to expand their sound further, moving beyond the limitations of programmed rhythms; Occult Architecture marks a further improvement in this regard, infusing warmth into Moon Duo’s precise but typically cold production. This is most appreciated in the complex syncopated interplay at the end of “Cross-Town Fade,” an album highlight. Other notable tracks include opener “The Death Set,” which hits hard with a woozy verse and a mind-melting outro, and “Creepin’,” a groovin’ rocker in the vein of their early single “Mazes.”
In all, Occult Architecture Vol. 1 might be Moon Duo’s strongest work yet. Although it occasionally bogs down in overly similar grooves and tempos (as do all their albums), the band breaks out of the box enough to contribute three or four tracks to any future best-of compilation. And if you like one song, chances are you’ll like the whole thing, even if you occasionally lose track of where you are. For the cult of Moon Duo, that’s the point.