Released appropriately on February 3, in the heart of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, Moon Duo’s fourth album Occult Architecture Vol. 1 offers a cosmic glimpse into the hidden pattern embedded in everything, and is, I am told, “an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.” Hm!
Written and recorded in their hometown of Portland, Oregon, the two-part epic reflects the hidden energies of rainclouds and sunshine and the deep creep of Northwest forests along with their effect on the psyche, and was inspired by the occult and esoteric literature of Mary Anne Atwood, Aleister Crowley, Colin Wilson, and Manly P. Hall.
According to guitarist Ripley Johnson, “the concept of the dark/light, two-part album came as we were recording and mixing the songs, beginning in the dead of winter and continuing into the rebirth and blossoming of the spring. There’s something really powerful about the changing of the seasons in the Northwest, the physical and psychic impact it has on you, especially after we spent so many years in the seasonal void of California. I became interested in gnostic and hermetic literature around that time, especially the relationship between music and occult qualities and that fed into the whole vibe.”
Okay, that’s all terribly fascinating, poetic, even, but what does all of that mean? Moon Duo’s last album didn’t immediately grab me, but I’m willing to give things another go, and admit if I have been hasty to judge, and to be honest, I often find that what I don’t care for one day will become my absolute very favorite thing the very next week.
And I am here to tell you that the psychedelic krautrock space jams found on Occult Architecture Vol. 1 are indeed my current Favorite Things. A hazy, hypnotic ride, buzzing with repetitive grooves, long, droning synth-laden refrains, and drowsy vocals, this is the background music I imagine playing if William Hope Hodgson’s reclusive narrator in The House On The Borderland were to describe his time spent astral-traveling to all those freaky, terrifying places that he mentions in his manuscript, but through, you know, the filter of rose-tinted glasses, and with an “…ahahaha, so THAT happened” kind of attitude.
Like, if he were traversing the vast desolation of space and time, not alone and afraid, but instead accompanied by his rad cousin (the one who shares all of his acid and shrooms) and just exploring the cosmos and visiting dying stars and dead planets in his dope ass El Camino, high as balls.
Which is not to say it’s all woozy sonic delirium and a miasma of languorous psychedelia. To my (admittedly untrained ear) I hear fuzzy, feisty post-punk garage band and 80s new wave influences, and the pulsating, throbbing beat of something one might even be compelled to dance to –if you’re at some far-flung space rave, I guess, at the outer edge of the galaxy. The cold, machine-like yet passionate beat of the album’s second to last track, “The Will of the Devil” even has a goth pop/cold wave vibe to it, that I especially dig.
On the whole, this is an unexpectedly catchy album (I am literally tapping my feet to it even at this moment, while at the same time bemoaning all of the drugs I never did, because man, hallucinogenics and space travel sounds like good times) and if this is Moon Duo’s dark side, I cannot wait to see what they deliver when they step into the light with Occult Architecture Vol. 2