Moon Duo have always had a disco side. Even back in the beginning, their Suicide vibes and psychedelic motorik grooves hinted at simple four-on-the-floor rhythms and dance floor abandon. The driving sound has always been Ripley Johnson’s fuzz guitar, Sanae Yamada’s keys, and their voices melding together into one soothing, melodic drone. With each successive album Moon Duo’s sound has mellowed a bit. Their darker beginnings gave way to a more playful, danceable vibe. It all came to a head with the two-part Occult Architecture Vol. 1 and 2. Those two records were the ying and yang of the Moon Duo sound. One record was the darker, male personality, while the other was the lighter female personality.
It was a transitional period for Moon Duo, one where their transformation was apparent. Which leads us to Stars Are the Light, the new album from Johnson and Yamada. Leaving any question behind, these two have taken their sound fully into the direction of upbeat, dance floor sounds. Gone are the occult leanings and Alan Vega worship. Light, upbeat, and very melodic grooves bring Moon Duo closer to some kind of artistic transcendence.
If you were hoping for another album filled with Krautrock-leaning, biker gang riffs, then Stars Are the Light may be a disappointing trip. Hearing the first two singles I was feeling some trepidation. I always looked forward to Moon Duo’s dichotomy of sounds; from the droning keys to the robotic rhythms to the fuzz guitars and the wisp of dreaminess in the Johnson/Yamada vocal play. This new lighter vibe didn’t seem right. But the more I heard these songs, the more right it felt. Stars Are the Light feels like the next phase in the Moon Duo transition.
“Flying” is the entry point into Moon Duo’s new trip, and it’s light-as-air and hazy. A groove that’s more Ohio Players than lo-fi industrial, Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada turn the Spacemen 3 vibes into something much groovier. Filled with rhythmic clicks and pops, space-y noises, and clean guitar lines, Moon Duo are taking us on their new trip gently. Title track “Stars Are the Light” goes all in with the dreamy drones and disco rhythms. “Fall(In Your Love)” is a slow and sultry track. It slinks and sways out of the speaker as if wanting to hypnotize you. It’s pretty stellar.
Stars Are the Light is mixed by Sonic Boom, and his magic is all over this album. There’s a very fluid feel with this record. It moves like water flowing upward to some fantastical rave in the sky. He seems to lock in to what Johnson and Yamada are going for and helps to bring the psychedelic disco trip into stark focus.
Moon Duo continue to progress their sound to this spectral, spaced-out disco groove. Leaving fuzz guitars, occult vibes, and transcendental trips behind, Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada are getting their grooves on in a more subtle way. Stars Are the Light moves differently, but it is still Moon Duo doing what Moon Duo do. They’re subverting expectations, lighting them on fire, and dancing in the ashes.
7.5 out of 10