BY JENNIFER KELLY
Moon Duo, the long-running drone collaboration between Wooden Shjips founder Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada, makes its compositions out of the tight grinding friction of repetitive riffs, overlaid with the serenity of dreamy half-heard vocals. Their best cuts find a balance between striving and meditation, the angst prickling amid layers of time-bending krautish propulsion like static electricity in layers of blankets. The idea seems to be to wind up a steady, simple riff, grind it out like clockwork, and then stipple this metronomic landscape with light and shadow via Johnson’s free-form guitar.
For this third album, the duo has picked up a live drummer in John Jeffrey. His rackety, thwacking percussion evokes Bobbie Gillespie’s work with the Jesus & Mary Chain and gives these endless horizon reveries a bit of structure. His flesh-and-blood rhythmic underpinning turns “Free the Skull” into something like a rock song, with its careening organs, grinding low-tuned guitar and smoke mirage vocals, and the single “Animal” is far more visceral and adrenalized because of his presence on it.
A few of these songs – “Wilding” and “Thieves” in particular — would fit quite easily onto a Wooden Shjips album, but in others Yamada takes a more audible role. “In a Cloud” is, by a mile, the most infused with feminine energy, its slow, lucid melody wreathed in her vocal harmonies, a brightness sparking in the empty spaces. “Zero,” as well, is trebly and spectral, with half-heard piano twinkling through wild high vibrations that sound like electrical wires blowing in the wind.
Shadow of the Sun sounds like Moon Duo is still working its way out of a corner, trying to find a way to expand its limited-palette sound without leaving it behind entirely. They’re not there yet, but it does seem time for a change up. Perhaps the next full-length will clarify exactly where this twosome-turned-threesome is heading.
DOWNLOAD: “Animal” “In a Cloud”