A lot can be said for a good boogie. Take that boogie, mix in some psychedelics and some robotic rhythms and what you have some something kinda fun and menacing. Moon Duo’s Eric “Ripley” Johnson likes music you feel in your bones and in the chattering of your teeth. Along with band mate and keyboardist Sanae Yamada, Johnson makes hypnotic tomes that aren’t about storytelling as they are about creating some great grooves and beats to soundtrack the story. They’ve been making music as Moon Duo since 2009 and with each release they seem to expand their musical ideas a little more. They’ve begun to sound less like a Johnson’s other band Wooden Shjips and more like a beefed-up, psychedelic B-52s. Last year’s Live at Ravenna showed that live Moon Duo were a force to be reckoned with, displaying a power with a live drummer backing them up. Shadows of the Sun take that concept to the studio and the result is a tasty, brawny chunk of psych groove music that makes Wooden Shjips all the more insignificant.
Insignificant is a strong word. I mean, every record Johnson’s main gig put out up to 2011s West were pretty stellar. Quaalude-hazy riffs ground down to nubs, with desert death trip rhythms that crawled along for as long as the band stayed aware that they were still playing instruments. It was 60s psychedelic biker music that owed as much to Black Sabbath and Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, as it did to LSD and that salty Bay Area air. Unfortunately their last effort, 2013s Back To Land, just felt exhausted and tired. Moon Duo seemed to be an outlet for Johnson to speed up the riffs and get those dirty hippies dancing. On Shadows of the Sun Johnson and Yamada have made their most clear-eyed record to date. The song “Zero” on another planet, lets call it Bizarro Earth, would have been a radio hit. It’s equal parts Dire Straits, B-52s, and dark wave’s incessant oppression. It feels like a pop hit in the catacombs of Paris. Then it’s followed by the mozy good feelings of “In A Cloud”. You can almost see them playing amongst towering cirrus clouds as a storm raged below them. Opening track “Wilding” and “Night Beat” come out of the speakers as a declaration of groove. They provide the greatest argument for Moon Duo to be a three-piece as opposed to a literal duo. There’s still drum programming, but when drummer John Jeffrey is dispatched the robotic grooves have a decidedly human heart beat at the center.
It’s not so much a change of flavor on Shadows of the Sun as it is a change up of the spices that go to make that hypnotic, druggy flavor. Eric “Ripley” Johnson and Sanae Yamada are still creating great grooves and loping riffs that offer many zoning out possibilities. This time though, the android beats and looping keyboards feel more flesh and bone and less circuits and wires.
7.8 out of 10