Moon Duo Escape

[Woodsist; 2010]

Styles: experimental rock, krautrock
Others: Wooden Shjips, Sanae Yamada, Suicide, Neu!

Moon Duo is the tandem of Eric “Ripley” Johnson (guitarist, vocalist for Wooden Shjips) and Sanae Yamada. Rather than representing a departure from the hazy, drug-addled psychedelia of Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo functions as a natural creative extension for Johnson. Whereas the Shjips are strongly rooted in a late-60s/early-70s, distinctly Californian aesthetic of Jefferson Airplane and The Doors, Moon Duo is a more geographically, if not temporally, adventurous project. Escape, the band’s first record for Woodsist, finds Johnson reveling in the murky pop stylings of Suicide, the motorik rhythm of Neu!, and the ecstatic clatter of The Velvet Underground.

As a functional title, Escape epitomizes Johnson’s unrealized creative spirits. Dissection of the record’s wonderful album art helps decipher the necessary spiritual utility that Moon Duo represents to Johnson. An all-seeing eye with flames (meant to represent dissemination of knowledge) gazes directly on a rope spiral (rope as freedom) with a disembodied finger pressing down on the center of the spiral (the finger signifying control). Wispy feathers extend from the rope spiral, designating Johnson’s Escape as a creative imperative unfurling itself and becoming truly realized. Moon Duo represents for Johnson a “freedom of structure” and opportunity to “say yes (to) as much as possible.” Judging by Moon Duo’s output in the past year of both this “mini LP” and its two prior EPs — Love on the Sea and the more recent Killing Time — this project is going a long way to help Ripley Johnson work out his creative ya-yas.

“Escape” is a proper title track with programmed motorik beats providing a blank canvas for twangy surf guitar and fuzzy swathes of keyboard melody provided by Sanae Yamada. It’s a song reminiscent of Suicide at their most benevolent, right down to Johnson’s Martin Rev-like, cool-but-sugar-coated deadpan vocal delivery. If you could surf on sound, this song would be a pretty sweet wave to catch. “In The Trees” features fuller (but no less synthetic) drums and cascading, distorted guitar riffage. It is denser than its predecessor and represents the album’s descent into night, a song that waves goodbye to the last glints of sunlight before a highly anticipated evening of debauchery. More than any of the other four tracks, “In The Trees” showcases Moon Duo’s talent for creating a truly immersive sonic atmosphere. The album’s last two tracks, “Motorcycle, I Love You” and “Stumbling, 22nd St.”, properly score the aforementioned debauchery, in name and in deed, the former featuring chrome sheen and black-leather attitude, and the latter propelled by skygazing guitars and a menacing, hovering organ like some UFO, real or imagined. At the specific point in the night best suited for “Stumbling, 22nd Street,” the boundaries between real and imagined are tenuous at best.

Highlighting the differences between Johnson’s two projects may devolve into nitpicking, since both bands share a penchant for trance-inducing repetition and vintage heavy distortion. Instead, Moon Duo’s existence should be viewed as an utter necessity for a man with too many riffs to exercise and not enough outlets to do so. The over-riding similarities between Escape and Moon Duo’s two previous efforts demonstrate a clear vision and well-formulated sound. While this album is undoubtedly their strongest statement to date, one has to conclude that there is much more music to come from Johnson and his cadre of riff wraiths.

Links: Moon Duo - Woodsist

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