Track by Track:
Moon Duo – Stars are the Light
Considering this is their seventh studio album (not including remix albums and extended EPs), and the last two were released as two volumes of a greater whole representing yin and yang, one of the most unexpected things about Moon Duo’s latest release is how comfortably it sits as one continuous piece of sonically thematic work. It doesn’t sound completely unlike the band’s previous output, but it definitely cuts a different musical silhouette.
The San Francisco pairing released material last year with other projects (Ripley Johnson back with Wooden Shjips and Sanae Yamada with Vive La Void) and have returned with a record that eschews the previous signature mix of loud, fuzzy guitars with sexily driven drum machine beats and turns towards a much more varied and groovier set of influences.
Mixed by Spaceman 3’s Peter Kember, Stars are the Light occupies a late summer outdoor noon where previous albums lived in a psychedelic yet sleazy autumnal dusk. The 8 tracks mostly abide by a tempo too slow to be driving music but with grooves too intense to be overtly chilled out. It’s their most psychedelic release to date yet the influence of disco, baggy (if such a term is still valid – I haven’t checked with a genre librarian for quite some time), folk and anything historically drenched in reverb never hides.
Opening track, Flying, kicks the shoes straight off and settles into its designer smoking jacket of a groove. Loose hats and snares dance around a particularly laid-back vocal delivery from Johnson. A shamisen-like synth appears between subtle, liquid guitar lines which grow as the track goes on but never get above any of the more rhythmic elements in the mix.
Lead single and title track, Stars are the Light, immediately drags me back to the heady, sticky hot days of June when it was released. An arpeggio keyboard line marches alongside deceptively
busy drums which gently swell as the track goes on. The vocal harmonising driving the melody is as good as the band have ever recorded and creates a dreamy platform for reversed, delayed guitar lines to occupy the sections more traditional guitar solos might’ve otherwise taken.
It’s at this stage in previous Moon Duo albums where a thumping track about riding a motorcycle with an alien who was raised by Wiccan priests would appear but Fall (In Your Love) slows proceedings down without sacrificing the spooky vibes. The bass is so prominent and phat with each note having the attack dialled down that it wouldn’t be out of place booming out of a heavy dub soundsystem. Amidst the swarm of gentle guitar and synths, there’s a hint of the part of the Sixties that was enthralled to Indian rhythms, if not the scales.
The World and the Sun continues the prominent, smooth bass factors although it does immediately present itself in a manner much friendlier to manoeuvring the rump. The bassline does remind me of Army of Me by Bjork and, should I be DJing in a sedentary room anytime soon, I’d be looking to mix them back and forth.
The first 12 minutes of Side 2 consist of the other two singles released prior to the album, Lost Heads and Eternal Shore. The former is a dreamy slice of wonder. Delayed guitars and what sounds like a mellotron reinforce the song’s rhythm while reversed lead guitar solo(s) meander between bleeps and blips cascading from a height seemingly aligned to a space station’s orbit.
Eternal Shore, meanwhile, has a much more loungey feel. Sanae’s lead vocals take the backing track out of Austin Power’s parlour and altogether somewhere closer to nature. I’ve mentioned the guitars a lot despite a lot of reaction to the album being focused on the seeming lack of guitars. There are more guitar tracks than in previous Moon Duo albums I believe – it’s just that they’re not being routed through a fuzz pedal. Actually, the subtle differences in guitar tone between (and sometimes within) each track is satisfyingly nuanced. Throughout this track, they mostly pick out a clean, watery soundsplash that takes centre stage in the second half of the song.
Eye 2 Eye turns the fuzz pedal back on although it remains restrained and never dominates before becoming a choppy start/stop accompaniment to the rhythm track. If there’s such a thing as nihilist joy, this track conveys it in spades – it also probably conveys the album’s artwork better than any other track on here – all colourfully abstract elements coming together like reality viewed through a half- shut eye.
Closing track, Fever Night, puts back on the figurative smoking jacket from Flying. It lunges, oscillates and slides rather than thrusts. The clarity of the drums and bass clothed in trippy guitars with multiple types of reverb providing a shimmering smoky air that sounds like the audio equivalent of lens flare.
This is unmistakeably an album and not a collection of songs. Best listened to as one body. It’s Moon Duo with the spikes removed. An almost queasy journey into psychedelia as tied to the asphalt as it is a lysergic sky. I already can’t imagine my record collection without it.
“BEST LISTENED TO AS ONE BODY. IT’S MOON DUO WITH THE SPIKES REMOVED”