Hot damn! I have an early contender for best new music of 2010! Moon Duo is, at first glance, a side project of Wooden Shjips guitarist Erik Johnson with keyboardist Sanae Yamada. Johnson plays guitar and sings and Yamada mans the keyboards straight to the heart of the sun. It’s brute force, heavy leather kinda music, man. If Wooden Shjips is a rough-hewn, organic take on the Velvet Underground’s galeforce drones, Moon Duo is like Kenneth Anger’s black steel cosmic motorcycle. Johnson and Yamada take as their holy texts albums by Suicide, Spacemen 3, and Jesus and Mary Chain. There’s no denying it — their forebears’ sunglasses, violence, and fuzzbox pulsebeats loom large but Moon Duo adds enough of its own personality to keep the music new. Escape hosts four sprawling, menacing, mantric tracks that you never want to end — and lucky for you, the third and fourth tracks never do, as far as I can tell. The riffs are dead simple and pile on top of one another in endless physical repetition, the pacing is manic and bluesy but spacey like Silver Apples, layered over by chiming vistas of solo guitar that scatter like mercury squiggles.
“Escape” takes a vintage Suicide drum machine heartbeat and a vocal from Johnson that even sounds like Alan Vega on “Dream Baby Dream,” and marries it to whooshing outer space Hawkwind guitar, broken up by jagged shards of seemingly accidental lead guitar that only make sense as they fade back into the punishing fuzz. “In the Trees” reminds me initially of “Walking With Jesus” slowed down to the kind of filthy strut that the Kills did so well on the first album, four to the floor beats pin down a riff that make me want to pick up a guitar again, and god, I can’t get enough of the Morse Code blips of lead guitar that arc and loop throughout. “Motorcycle I Love You” is a wondrous Mary Chain homage, from the title of the song to the tinny rockabilly-channeling drum machine to the urgent teenage caveman riff, one-note synth, and the heavily echoed, whispered vocals, a vague insinuation and the solo this time is like echoplex nails on a tin roof that goes all Möbius strip in on itself. The vocals on “Stumbling 22nd Street” sound a little Lou Reed-as-Arthur Rimbaud evil choirboy, adding another level of transgression to the overloaded guitars careening out of control as a distorted organ and drum machine glower in the background, keeping a disaffected, gum-chewing cool. Something is going very right here.
Oh, and this Christmas they released a cassette of “Silver Bells.” Yeah, I’m pretty much in love.