Moon Duo: "Circles" music review

"Circles" (CD and LP) is record number three from the beloved modern minimalist psych-kraut combo Moon Duo. Initially an offshoot of psych rockers Wooden Shjips, over the last few years it seems the 'Duo have been way more active than the mothershjip. This latest record from the Shjips' Ripley Johnson and his partner, Sanae Yamada, taking up right where the last one, Mazes, left off — the duo weaving lush, hypnotic, jams, expanding their sound with every record, Circle being the most polished, and certainly the most poppy.

They still worship at the altar of Spacemen 3, you can't really play this sort of music and not, but the sound this time around is definitely less dark, more sun-dappled and dreamy. The pop element is huge with some of the songs sounding downright noisepoppy; even the more tranced-out krauty jams find the duo adding multiple melodies, layering their guitars and synths, and most excitingly, singing together much more with the boy/girl harmonies downright dreamy.

While the opener "Sleepwalker" is about as close to classic Moon Duo as Circles gets, it sort of feels like they're easing us into it. "I Can See" is propulsive and driving, a little bit bouncy, but Yamada and Johnson sing the chorus together, before Johnson lets loose with some wild gouts of psych guitar. The sound is still plenty sinister, and darkly hued, but that is NOT the case on the title track, which is fuzzy and super poppy. With the intertwined vocals and the killer chorus, not to mention a super melodic lead, it's a sunshinier side of Moon Duo, one that we sort of like.

"I Been Gone" is almost new wavey, a percolating melody over a driving groove, and another pretty excellent chorus. Our only complaint with past Moon Duo records really, and a minor one at that, was that their songs were less songs, so much as just cool parts. The band would play the part, a killer psychedelic krautrocky groove, until they stopped. This was even more evident live where they would push play on the drum machine, then start the song, then eventually stop, the programmed rhythm continuing on unwavering, until they pushed stop. Here, the songs sound much more crafted, and composed, as if they were meant to be the length they are, a certain number of verses and choruses, and then end. And somehow they manage that without losing that sense of endless jamminess, which was part of the joy of Moon Duo's sound.

For all the new sounds and more poppiness, fear not, there's still plenty of tranced-out psychedelic brood, and looped hypno rock mesmer. "Sparks" is classic Moon Duo, as is the epic loping closer "Rolling Out", with its Spacemen 3 riff and monster groove, but then out of nowhere comes the weird, pulsing, effects drenched stomp of "Free Action," with its stuttering guitars and woozy descending almost glammy sounding chorus.

Just enough of the classic old sound, balanced with a whole lot of the new, is making this a big fave around here for sure!

Moon Duo: "Circles" CD and LP