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Weather Inspires New Moon Duo Record

In Music
TOTAL ECLIPSE: Moon Duo bring their new weather-inspired sounds to Don Quixote’s.

TOTAL ECLIPSE: Moon Duo bring their new weather-inspired sounds to Don Quixote’s.

For Sanae Yamada—keyboardists and one half of psychedelic rockers Moon Duo— the most surreal aspect of relocating from the Bay Area to Portland a few years back was the difference in seasons. Portland’s were pronounced, but she had barely noticed the cyclical shifts in San Francisco. Over time, her memories of Northern California became more difficult to place in time, because there weren’t weather clues attached to them.

This realization, in part, inspired the group’s most ambitious project to date: a two-album exploration of the hidden energies in our universe. It’s kind of about weather, but it’s also about the unseen spiritual energies that guide our world. The album is divided into the dark (Occult Architecture Vol. 1, released this month) and light (Occult Architecture Vol. 2, slated for release later this year).

“It wasn’t like we sat down and were like, ‘Let’s make a record about the seasons,’ but removing myself from the context of the seasons gave me totally different qualities to my memories,” Yamada says. “It was more the binary aspects of things that we were talking about—the existence of opposites that contrast each other, at the same time define each other, and make up this whole.”

In a way, the concept of the record isn’t different than anything the group’s done on their previous three LPs. Examining the occult, the spirituality of the natural world, and even the weather (the album Circles was partially inspired by the sunniness of Colorado, where they recorded it) has always been a part of how the duo makes music. What is different is the size and scope of the project—the two albums were made back to back to give them the feel of a single project. Going into it, they didn’t know if it would even work.

“It’s a very daunting concept to take on.” Yamada says. “I don’t, by any means think that we covered it. We just opened a few doors, I guess. I think that the investigation of the cycles and the patterns and structures that make up our reality, matter and consciousness and all of those have been an enduring fascination for both of us.”

The first record, which is supposed represent darkness, doesn’t sound how one might imagine. It features fast-driving, precise playing; a heavy dose of new wave synth, offset by Ripley Johnson’s fuzzed-out guitar. Johnson’s vocals also feel different this time around. He sounds as if he’s in a trance—his delivery squashed, almost expressionless.

Yamada explains that she and Johnson weren’t looking to make a dark album—at least not in the sense of something evil or sorrowful. The word that stuck out for them when they made the album was “claustrophobic.” In dialing in her synths, Yamada says she sought out “a lot of growling sounds and gurgling sounds, little sharp stabbing textures.” She was thinking about a cave space, she says, like liquid bubbling up from the ground. The vocals were recorded normally, but were mixed in a way that gave them a compressed sound.

The forthcoming second installment of Occult Architecture has no such effect applied to the vocals. The most important thing was for it to sound expansive and summer-y. And Yamada worked on a different sound palette on Vol. 2. “I tried to make more sugary sounds, like granular floating textures,” she says. “Like dust in the air.”

Ambition aside, the most remarkable thing about this pair of records may be the way they have expanded the group’s sound beyond the confines of the psych rock genre they are most often associated with.

“We definitely get labeled psychedelic, which I actually don’t mind so much, in that the term itself, is a pretty expansive term,” Yamada says. “I think a lot of things could fit under the heading. But I think in its current iteration, there’s definitely a fairly identifiable sound that goes along with it that we don’t necessarily fit that well.”

Moon Duo
Feb 22, 8pm, $15
Don Quixotes, Felton

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