Moon Duo - Circles - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Moon Duo - Circles

by Daryl Worthington Rating:7 Release Date:2012-10-01

Mark E Smith once described the 'three Rs' of 'repetition, repetition, repetition' as central to The Fall's music. The idea of using extensive repetition as an element of composition is, of course, one that pre-dates The Fall, being a key element of the music of minimalist composers such as Terry Riley, Krautrock bands such as Can, and various forms of folk music. It's use can have more than one effect. In the case of The Fall, repetition emphasises the band's slightly abrasive groove.

On the other hand, and perhaps more frequently, it is used as a means to immerse the listener, removing the distraction of obvious rhythmic or harmonic changes and allowing the listener to focus on the intimate subtleties of the sounds being played. Repetition and minimalism are crucial components of the music of Moon Duo, and understanding this as a conscious decision by a band is paramount to enjoying their music.

Circles is the second full-length album by Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada, a San Francisco-based couple who write and perform minimalist pop music using guitar, organ and drum machines. Johnson is also the guitarist in Wooden Shjips, his reverb and distortion drenched guitar being the common thread between the two.

Moon Duo is the more restrained of the two bands, with their songs fitting into tighter, more concise structures. Album opener 'Sleepwalker' is built over a looping drum machine beat and guitar riff, noticeably more upbeat and immediate than Wooden Shjips' material. Subtle variations and background effects are gradually explored throughout the song, providing texture to the vocal melody and repetitions. This highlights the key separation between the two bands' approach, Wooden Shjips use songs as a vehicle to explore sound, dynamics and time. Conversely, Moon Duo put primacy in their songs, using the aforementioned techniques merely as a source of texture.

One of the startling features of Moon Duo's previous album, Mazes, was its ability to sound remarkably summery, despite the heavy use of techniques from drone and minimalist music. Moon Duo's Krautrock, minimalist and psyche influences have always been quite clear. However, they've always added their own Californian twist.

Thankfully, Circles has continued this. 'I Been Gone', built on a driving, almost surf-rock beat and syncopated keyboard stabs, has a thick wall of distorted, wah-wah guitars throughout. Even in the instrumental final section of the song, when a loud, harsh blast of distortion is added to the mix, it still sounds like it should be played cruising down Sunset Boulevard.

The presence of repetition is not just apparent in individual songs. There's been no massive change in their sound or aesthetic between Mazes and Circles, although new instrumentation and ideas have been added.'Sparks', for instance, is built on a bed of strummed acoustic guitar chords and almost sounds like The Doors, but refracted through a minimalist prism.

Yamada contributes backing vocals on several tracks, providing nice complimentary male/female harmonies, and Johnson relies less on his wall of effects pedals, such as on the title track which features a clean guitar solo, more centred around melody than texture. At its core, though, this album has the majority of the same components as Mazes. How much of a problem this is depends on how willing you are to join in their groove.

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