Circles is, of course, the most close-fitting and apt title for the 2nd full-length record made by cosmos travelling partners Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips) and Sanae Yamada as the titular Moon Duo; it easily sums up the way their songs progress and how the two members’ contributions flow together like a well mixed drink. The distance between this and a Wooden Shjips record isn’t really that great but if anything the main difference is that Moon Duo seems less rock and more fun.
Songs revolve around fuzz leaden guitars, dusty synths and revolving drum patterns with vocals and melody largely devolved to the background as Moon Duo operate their magical mystery tour on a loop. Happiness and good-time grooves abound on Circles; there are no sonic dirges delivering pin-pricks to stoned bodies spoiling the trip – it’s all very mellow, akin to the final hours of a party experienced through diminishing senses. The album, gestated in the Rocky Mountains and recorded in various locations, takes inspiration from “Circles” an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson; inspiration that can be heard clearly on the lyrics of the title track “The end is beginning”.
Opening number Sleepwalker is suitably dreamy, “Am I dreaming/Am I sleeping?” with its woozy guitar blending with the Johnson and Yamada’s overlapping vocals. Usually, it’s his muffled low-key croon that commands the microphone on Circles with Yamada contributing her vocals sporadically. When they do get it together though, it makes for some of the album’s best songs: the hand clapping Free Action and Trails with its languid chorus and three note hook.
Elsewhere there’s rockabilly guitar bends on the kitsch Circles, slinky rhythms on the purring Sparks with the album’s head nodding red-eyed flow only interrupted by I Can See and its off-kilter, out of place 80’s student disco feel. On the whole, the album wields Johnson’s usual touchstones of 60’s garage, krautrock and freakbeat in a package that swirls together like your grandparent’s carpet for maximum effect just without the headache.
First published on RoomThirteen