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Moon Duo
Shadow Of The Sun John S.W. MacDonald , February 24th, 2015 15:11

On paper, the addition of a live a drummer for Moon Duo's third LP, Shadow Of The Sun, would seem to mark a major break from the past for the Portland band. Before John Jeffrey stepped behind the kit in 2013 – officially making the Duo a trio – keyboardist Sanae Yamada and guitarist Erik "Ripley" Johnson (both of whom also sing) had crafted their drone-heavy psych largely with the help of a drum machine. Not that Moon Duo didn't produce a full, serotonin-drenched sound with Yamada's pulsing organs and Johnson's fuzz blasts, particularly on 2012's Circles. But you'd think that adding Jeffrey, who first appeared on record with last year's live EP, Live In Ravenna, would have pushed their music even further into the stratosphere by loosening up the band's highly mechanised rhythms.

But if anything, Moon Duo only sound more like themselves on Shadow Of The Sun, their grooves more streamlined and brutally precise. Check 'Ice', in which Jeffrey's kick and Yamada's organ march in lockstep for seven unchanging minutes. Or the punishing 'Animal', in which Jeffrey sounds like one of Suicide's old drum machines pushed far into the red. Shadow Of The Sun is a straight shot down a long, sunbaked highway – with no exit in sight.

Adding a drummer to the band, in other words, hasn't breathed much air into Moon Duo's dense, monochromatic sound. What it has done (though this may also have something to do with the record's more polished, beat-forward mix) is make Shadow of the Sun the most danceable album of the band's career. Tunes like 'Night Beat', 'Zero' and the jubilant, organ-heavy 'Slow Down Low' shuffle and bounce with effortless conviction.  There's a sense of fun on Shadow Of The Sun – an almost giddy joy at music-making – that earlier records lacked.

The band's songwriting, however, remains as straightforward as ever. Shadows Of The Sun settles on a chord (or two) for each track and runs it into the ground. And yet an album that can sound samey and repetitive during the first couple of listens, eventually reveals all manner of treasures hiding in the glittering murk: the twinkling two-note keyboard riff that pops up at the 50-second mark on the Spaceman 3 ode 'Free The Skull'; the nifty little start-stop bridge on 'Zero' (and the fact that the song has a bridge at all); the relentless 3/4 rhythm that winds it sway through 'Thieves'.

And the same is true of Johnson's guitar work: solos that can seem generic and lazy at first turn out to be neither. Johnson, after all, is the lead guitarist for California psych-stompers Wooden Shjips – he knows his way around a wah-wah pedal or three. On 'In A Cloud', one of Moon Duo's rare ballads, his playing is perfectly tuned to the music's narcotic fog – calm, never hurried, and preternaturally graceful. Johnson tells a story you've heard before, certainly, but it's one that's easy to listen to again and again.

It wouldn't be unfair to fault Moon Duo for sticking so persistently to the same monolithic sound – that endless boogie of stomping organ, swampy guitar and hazy vocals. But such stubbornness puts them in good company – Beach House and Real Estate, to name just two, could easily be accused of the same thing. And anyway, it works – which is of course what really matters. Let's hope that Moon Duo shakes things up next time around. But in the meantime, let's be grateful that some bands never change.