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Moon Duo - Mazes

Moon Duo, Mazes

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IF EXTENDED guitar instrumentals boasting a vaguely retro, psychedelic leaning are your thing, then you might want to check out Moon Duo’s Mazes LP.

Recorded in San Francisco and mixed in Berlin during 2010 as the band (aka guitarist Ripley Johnson and partner Sanae Yamada) prepared to move to the mountains of Colorado, this is – by their own admittance – a broader, lighter sound than the Killing Time and Escape EPs that first put them on the map.

It’s described as a quest through the American landscape they call home… one that is about finding one’s place in the world, moving forward and the different paths one takes while moving through life.

Hence, it’s a musical odyssey of sorts… one where the emphasis is very much on Johnson’s guitar playing skills and one that is proud to follow in the footsteps of some of the great guitar albums that have followed before – from Velvet Underground to the Rolling Stones via more contemporary acts like The Dandy Warhols, Dinosaur Jr and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Admittedly, it requires patience at times, as some of the songs are allowed to run to indulgent lengths (like one long jamming session) and some of the riffs don’t show much variation. Vocally, it’s pretty weak too.

But this seems to be more about the musical journey – and delivering the kind of experience that can either be enjoyed while getting behind the wheel of a car and travelling the American landscapes that inspired it, or kicking back in an armchair with a joint or a beer (or both).

Seer sets the standard – a hazy set of vocals combining with some organ and a vaguely scuzzy riff that lends it a psychedelic vibe. It’s kind of thrilling but it also threatens to drift on too long.

That said, when they hook things up right, the results can be electrifying. Former single, Mazes, for instance, is an instant gem – the lazy organ chords offset by some pile-driving mainstay riffs and the sort of interwoven guitar work that would make both J Mascis and Keith Richards proud. It’s a real driving anthem with even a little Velvet Underground thrown in.

Scars has a low-key beat and some warped electronic arrangements, before occasionally allowing the guitars to bring the track to life, while Fallout drops a mighty riff and sends the album into fifth gear in emphatic fashion to drop another highlight. The juxtapositions are sometimes quite amazing!

When You Cut similarly employs a playful organ loop that provides a deep contrast to the meatier riffs, while the vocals reflect on a paranoid state of mind where the walls are closing in – almost the opposite of what a handclap beat backed track should be!

And Goners rounds things off with more tambourine beats, rousing riffs and retro leanings that – much like the rest of the LP – begin brightly, take you on a journey (‘cos the bags are all packed) and then threaten to overstay their welcome.

But then that’s what makes Moon Duo such an addictive curiosity. You may not love everything they do but you can’t help but feel compelled to see their album through all the highs and lows. And there’s plenty to recommend it, not least in Johnson’s often inspired guitar work.

Download picks: Mazes, When You Cut, Goners, Fallout

Track listing:

  1. Seer
  2. Mazes
  3. Scars
  4. Fallout
  5. When You Cut
  6. Run Around
  7. In The Sun
  8. Goners