Across seven albums, Moon Duo’s Eric “Ripley” Johnson and Sanae Yamada have used songwriting as a means of conversing with one another.
The duo’s records explore concepts, thoughts and states of consciousness in a similar manner to the way people reach for something higher through psychedelic drugs, yoga or transcendental meditation.
Stylistically, the band’s first six albums drew heavily on psychedelic rock and kosmische musik. This sound culminated in 2017’s back-to-back LPs, Occult Architecture Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
But the Portland band’s latest album, 2019’s Stars Are the Light, sheds the abstract impressionism of its predecessors. Stars Are the Light has a more immediate and concrete energy, with Johnson and Yamada taking inspiration from disco music.
“We definitely wanted to do something that was different than what we’ve done before,” says Yamada. “We’ve always hoped that our music had an element of dance inspiration in it, simply by virtue of having very repetitive beats.
“But we wanted to make an album that took that a step further and actually embraced some of the elements of disco music specifically – to try and push that aspect of it more out into the forefront.”
Repetition has been a central element of the Moon Duo modus operandi since the beginning, and its utilisation on Stars Are the Light yields frequently enveloping returns.
The formal qualities of the compositions can be broken down fairly easily – the chords and time signatures are never overly complicated – but the use of repetition summons feelings that can’t be communicated through formal analysis.
For example, the fact the main chord progression in ‘Lost Heads’ is instantly familiar or that one can easily discern the shape of the ‘Flying’ bass groove, doesn’t detract from the emotionally stirring quality of the songs.
“I think there’s something really primal about [repetition] and the way that a human being responds to it,” says Yamada. “Especially repetition in rhythm – it hooks into the body in a way that few other things do. For me that was, and remains, one of the major draws of playing repetitive music; trying to access some of what I think of as the primal effectiveness of music in general.
“Across any spiritual practice throughout history, a lot of times you find chanting and some dancing and incantations, repetitions. This whole idea of saying something again and again or playing a rhythm again and again or singing something again and again, it’s woven throughout the entire history of the species.”
Moon Duo albums are a great advertisement for songwriting in partnership rather than as a solitary exercise. Johnson and Yamada employ a strongly intertwisted practice, and the band’s strength stems from the equal commitment of the two individuals.
“We both practice meditation and we have a lot of parallel interests in the occult and the esoteric and spirituality and psychedelia in general,” says Yamada. “So I think our parallel evolution as individual people has been ping-ponging off of each other for all this time and that the space between us has evolved in that time as well.
“Making the music together is a conversation that we can’t have in words. It’s like a conversation of energies.”
A “conversation of energies” might sound terribly abstract, but Stars Are the Light is undeniably Moon Duo’s most inviting album to date. It’s a party album, in its own way, which extends a pair of arms out to the listener.
“[It’s a response] to the larger human situation that we’re all sort of living through right now,” says Yamada. “A big part of that is speaking to this shared desire for connection, that all people have, that feels extremely present in this moment.
“That’s absolutely one of the defining characteristics of this record – addressing the desire to connect with other people who have a need for community and need for shared humanity.”