Published Feb 27, 2015With the addition of Canadian drummer John Jeffrey, psychedelic stars Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada have effectively turned their band name, Moon Duo, into a misnomer. Jeffrey, their third member, keeps time on their third LP, Shadow of the Sun, the group's followup to 2012's Circles. Despite the shifting dynamic that the new member brings, Moon Duo capitalize on their usual formula: fuzzed out riffs, Santana solos and droning, monotone vocals. That may not sound like a compliment, but for Moon Duo it somehow works.
The San Francisco band wrote this record in Portland and recorded in Berlin with Finnish beatmaker Jonas Verwijnen. His influence is evident on tracks like "Night Beat," which has the handclap rhythms of the Go-Gos; "Zero," on which the band layer icy synths over a punchy bass line and dance rhythm; and "Slow Down Low," which couples bouncy piano with deep snare hits. Jeffrey is sharp at delivering all of these tight tempos, but the fact that he splits duties with a drum machine leaves little room for flair or fills, giving the album's rhythm a stiff, mechanical character.
The band's cosmic sonic voyages evoke Deep Purple's Machine Head, riding waves of distortion and repetitive riffs that impress upon the listener a feeling of motion while the drummer keeps the whole vehicle on track. Yamada and Johnson's voices stretch from distances and are difficult to hear at points, further conjuring the kaleidoscopic aura of a musical fever dream.
Unfortunately, as is the case with seven-minute saga "Ice," some of the songs begin with open-ended concepts but become static as the formula kicks in. Still, Shadow of the Sun is an intriguing journey; hopefully, given more time, Moon Duo will embark on some new adventures with even wilder results. (Sacred Bones)