Janky Smooth

Meet Moon Duo At The Crossroads: Rock Rebranded At The Echo

Ripley Johnson- Moon Duo

Ripley Johnson- Moon Duo

The moment I first saw the imagery and themes from the new Moon Duo album, Occult Architecture vol. 1 released on Sacred Bones Records, I knew that Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada were communicating in a language I could understand.  That’s why I peeled myself out of exhausted comfort this past Friday to attend their gig at The Echo, even though I was burning out quicker than Crowley, strung out in London.  Apologies to the opening bands. Moon Duo has been on line-ups of shows and festivals I’ve attended in the past but sometimes, a shiny object is required to draw your attention in a time when there is more new music and less strict guidelines in adhering to people’s pre conceived notions on what kind of music they pledge their allegiance to.

It would be easy for rock purists to overlook the magickal, mystical incantations and spells Moon Duo cast on their new album, Occult Architecture, Vol 1. But I’m more curious if there are any rock purists left under the age of 25 and what is the measuring stick of “pure rock”?  The Rolling Stones?  Robert Johnson?  The Sonics?  Zeppelin?  How about GunsNRoses or even, Ty Segall?  

Sanae Yamada- Moon Duo

Sanae Yamada- Moon Duo



Ripley Johnson, half the equation of the duo of the moon buries his pure rock riffs and power chords in the mix like sacred bones in hallowed earth- the guitar tone still pronounced and intelligible in the textures of layered synth that lay beside it.  Johnson trades having a signature sound for cranking a Marshall half stack up to 11, a classic parody of rock dogma.  

Synthesist, Sanae Yamada’s vocals vibrate in invincible simplicity like meditative chanting, hips gyrating in hypnotic motions that juxtapose against her manic fingers dancing rhythmically on the simulated ivory keys before her.

Somehow, even with Johnson’s quintessential contributions to Moon Duo and the feeling that you are moments away from meeting Lucifer in the fork of the crossroads to sell your soul for a rebrand of Rock n Roll, there is a very Euro vibe to the overall sound that is reminiscent to Ladytron when either or both Yamada or Johnson sing- which seems like an otherworldly achievement given the sum of the parts.

Sanae Yamada- Moon Duo

Sanae Yamada- Moon Duo

Part of why this sound is so unique IS the missing rock alpha ego that is exchanged for more subtlety and nuance.  The live mix of the keys, guitar, Yamada’s vocals and Johnson’s vocals and the drummer joining them on stage as we choose to ignore the accuracy of the word duo, is that all instrument and mic levels are on equal footing, which immediately informs us that the guitar tone isn’t buried at all, it’s simply an open faced sandwich of sound.  More than the kaleidoscopes of static and colors projecting onto the band and bleeding onto and out of the walls that surround the stage at The Echo, the demure vocals and cultish rhythms psyched me out just when I was looking for variations in the psychedelic scene that has swallowed up independent music the world ’round.

Moon Duo are a perfect example of what I’ve dubbed, the mongrelization of music which, despite how bad that sounds, is like people born with mixed ethnicity.  It is mixing disciplines and genetics that create some of the most beautiful sounds and people in the world in the eyes and ears of at least this beholder.  And that’s what most people don’t understand about psych rock… it’s not simply rock and it’s almost never exclusively psychedelic.  The resurgence of psych is the main mongrel with so many bands clearly relaying influences in garage rock, punk, rockabilly, kraut rock and even house music etc.

related content: Black Marble & UNIFORM- The Mongrelization of Music Continues

I never pretend to know a band better than I do to give the impression that I’m an authority on art I have only recently began to consume.  That is also another reason I have recently stopped creating or requesting traditional album reviews in the pages of Janky Smooth- because one rarely gets the feel of an album they’ve sampled a handful of times and in particular, to bands that are less familiar to one’s consciousness like Moon Duo are to mine.  But it just goes to show you that rock and roll, with all it’s straightforward, “what you see is what you get” illusion of simplicity is a medium that is well supported by imagery and literary references that draw on different themes such as lore, the occult, pop culture and divergent thinking, (at least that’s what good rock draws on) and my recent exploration into Moon Duo’s Necronomicon of sound was discovered by the themes I’ve been drawn to since I first realized that pop culture was a cancer of conformity.

Words: Danny Baraz

Photos: Travis Moore

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