Moon Duo, ‘Circles’ – Album Review
Don't get it twisted: Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of America's greatest rock stars. Emerson's finest moment -- his 1837 speech to the Phi Beta Kappa society -- was also his most defiantly rock 'n' roll. Here, the brazen and brainy Emerson called for a collective American intellect -- "The American Scholar" as we know it now -- to replace the staid British standard. It was the 19th century equivalent of Bob Dylan's electric Royal Albert Hall concert encore.
(You know: "Judas!" "Play it f-----' loud!")
Now, Emerson has his fingerprints all over 'Circles,' the latest from Sacred Bones Records fuzz philosophers Moon Duo. The album title refers to the Emerson essay of the same name, in which he expounds on his transcendental view of the world as a series of overlapping, inter-revolving circles. (These include the eye, the horizon, the celestial spheres and so forth, and at some point, the whole thing collapses back in upon itself, if I remember correctly.) Obviously, the album has a primo intellectual pedigree, but does it rock?
Yeah, it rocks. It rocks, swaggers and rattles your white meat with lumbering fuzz and a proto-punk skeleton of thumping ribal drums. This kind of spacey primitivism is a simple noise that's hard to capture and even harder to do well. After all, a lot of bands try to bridge the void between Sun Ra and Silver Apples (or maybe Amon Duul and whatever drag band is cool this month -- you can really go crazy with this one) and fail spectacularly.
But with this album -- as with their previous one, 'Mazes' -- the San Francisco two-piece conjures a confident, fifth-dimension hedonism that gets sucked in through the third eye, rearranged in the libido, rewired through a Big Muff pedal and blown back into the universal, vibrational Tesla coil, uh, thingy.
The opening track, 'Sleepwalker,' is a clinic on how to pull off proper psychedelic space garage rock, with its motorik drum intro leading the way into some pretty radical tambourine abuse and Ray Manzarek-stamped organ skronk before singer Ripley Johnson (of Wooden Shijps) begins to intone into an echoey sonic ether and the duo repeats it all over again.
That's pretty much the formula for the entire album. Although they do get downright beachy on songs like the title track and 'Trails,' Moon Duo take a hardline cue from the Byrds, or the Byrds that would have existed had they been around for DMT and digital wave distortion.
It doesn't take a genius to make an album like this -- just a nice cache of pedals and a cool taste in records -- which is exactly why I can't recommend it enough. If you're looking for music that puts on airs, go listen to that Grizzly Bear album again.