The Dandy Warhols

Review: Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun

With their latest album Shadow of the Sun, Moon Duo takes the listener on a psychedelic journey whose thrills are often laced with a subtle menace.  Underneath the hazy guitars and bright keyboards, the band traffics in Krautrock-inspired motifs, with the recurring figures alternately grounding the songs and pushing them forward with an ever-insistent beat.  Though the constant repetition can have an overpowering effect of grinding down the listener if their attention is focused too much on the details, Shadow of the Sun is perfect background music for getting lost and zoning out.

Most of the songs revolve around a simple bouncy riff built atop the sparest of chord progressions; a catchy introductory melody ensnares the listener, but the lack of deviation creates an almost unbearable tension that can only be pierced by the addition of a new chord or a solo of some sort.  Moon Duo does a fantastic job of crafting specific melodies like the keyboard line in “Zero” that are seemingly self-contained but in fact keep the listener anticipating a true resolution.  However, the lack of a true conclusion to most of the songs works against the album as it often leaves the listener feeling unsatisfied.

Shadow of the Sun consistently evokes the work of Suicide, as each song is anchored by straightforward and persistent drumbeats that help give the impression of a dark undercurrent lurking beneath the surface.  The consistent repetition of simple patterns mirrors the mechanistic nature of the drum machines that help characterize Suicide, but Moon Duo distinguishes itself with the addition of live drummer John Jeffrey*, who helps add a touch of vitality to the music.  Other influences pop up as well, some more obvious than others.  One can easily hear the impact of the neo-psychedelic forays of The Dandy Warhols circa-Come Down, and a song like “Slow Down Low” is dominated by a vamp on a single chord that brings to mind the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” so much that one could easily sing “I said I couldn’t hit it sideways” as it bounces merrily along.  The delicate “In a Cloud” helps break the potential for monotony on the album and is a welcome change of pace, but is also the source of the most unexpected connection of the album, as its simple two chord progression bears a striking resemblance to Grizzly Bear’s “Knife”; Moon Duo add enough of a personal touch of their own, but I did spend a large amount of time racking my brain trying to pin down where I had previously heard the melody.

Moon Duo does a great job of blending the elements of psychedelic drone and Krautrock repetition to create an overall heady experience.  However, Shadow of the Sun does not exactly stand up to strict scrutiny, as the repetition of only a handful of ideas and motifs can potentially bore the listener; the album works best when the band keeps the mood as light as possible, as in the lively opener “Wilding” or the energetic finale “Animal”.  Nevertheless, Moon Duo has crafted an album that is one of the more pleasant surprises of the year so far.

*His presence increases the number of members of the group to three, making their band name a complete lie; if they wanted to be more accurate, the band should be called Earth Trio.

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Over the Weekend (May 19 Edition)

We’ve got a lot of fun videos and other distractions for your pre-Memorial Day week, so let’s get going.

First, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released an intense and haunting video for their new single “As Always”.  The song is an interesting change in direction for the band, with spare guitar melodies filtering in and out of a spectral synth track, and propelled by a galloping drum track that stutters a bit with its inventive use of ghost notes.

Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and even more groups) released his solo debut Everyday Robots a few weeks back, and while we’re still processing the spare and melancholic nature of the album, that hasn’t stopped Damon from releasing a video for one of the more upbeat tracks on the album.  He released a video for “Mr Tembo”, a song about an orphaned baby elephant he met in Tanzania, and the video features clips of the little guy in action.  I think this is one of the few times I would prefer less footage of the musicians, just so we can get more baby elephant scenes.

AllMusic conducted an interview with The Dandy Warhols, where they do the usual thing of talking about influences and songwriting goals, which actually are rather revealing when you consider the trajectory of their career.  In addition, they have the premiere of the lyric video for their classic “Bohemian Like You”.  It’s actually the version from their recent release Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia Live at the Wonder, and features some goofy animation.  So, there’s that.

Last weekend’s Saturday Night Live had one of my favorite sketches of the season, with an Andy Samberg Digital Short that was a vicious parody of the inherent ridiculousness of the current EDM scene.  Radio.com picked up some of the reactions from various famous DJs, and many seemed to enjoy the joke, though who knows how many thought that they were not themselves the target.

SPIN has an article talking about the first public performance of the reunited Slowdive and includes some video footage from the secret gig.  It’s great to see the band together again, though expectations should be tempered a bit considering the (understandably) low quality of the footage.

And finally, we have a little bit more chart fun, as Concert Hotels came up with an interactive chart comparing vocal ranges of various singers from different eras.  Some of the results may surprise you.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 10 Edition)

Some fun links for your Monday afternoon, as you realize that the name of this site could double for a True Detective fansite.

Let’s begin with a guitar workshop from Alan Sparhawk of Low.  The video begins with the mechanics of an electric guitar and how the sounds are created, which is pretty handy for novices.  Of greater interest to experienced players is the second half of the video, where Alan shows the different effects pedals that he uses, including one with his own added innovation.

We’ve got links to a few new tracks that are worth your time.  First, I recommend listening to this collaboration between Frank Ocean, Diplo, Mick Jones, and Paul Simonon.  The laid-back, island vibe is great for easing into the week, but don’t get too comfortable, because things get a bit more lively.  Frank Ocean will probably need all the good vibes he can get, as he deals with legal issues stemming from a dispute with Chipotle.  And continuing with the theme of seemingly bizarre collaborations, there’s Kendrick Lamar rapping over Tame Impala’s “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”.  I think it would have worked better with a smoother flow, like the style of “Money Trees” (which is proof that Kendrick can rap with great results over an indie rock track), but if you approach it as a Kendrick Lamar song instead of a remix of Tame Impala, the snarl works better.  And there’s Taylor Hawkins, drummer of the Foo Fighters, who got bit with the side-group bug like Dave Grohl, and his new outfit “Birds of Satan”.  Not only does the name recall Eagles of Death Metal, but the music does as well.  That to me is a good thing.

While we mentioned the 20th anniversary of Superunknown on Friday, it was rather fitting that we didn’t link to an appreciation of The Downward Spiral from Stereogum, which celebrated its anniversary on the same date (I say “fitting” because Soundgarden beat out Nine Inch Nails at the top of the Billboard chart (and to add to the discussion of “fitting”–there is talk of a possible joint Soundgarden/Nine Inch Nails tour)).  There’s some great insight into how important the album was at the time and its place in rock history, especially considering it was the first exposure to “dangerous music” for many kids (I still remember getting nightmares from my first viewing of “Closer”, coupled with the thrill of watching something I knew I was not allowed to see).  However, this piece gets a few demerits for not mentioning the brilliance of “A Warm Place”, especially in between “Big Man With A Gun” and “Eraser” in examining the album’s exploration of the light/dark dichotomy.

Also worth checking out is an interview from The Quietus with Mike Watt where he discusses his favorite albums.  Consider this the best homework assignment ever if you haven’t listened to these albums or are at least familiar with these artists–I can think of few better teachers than the bassist for The Minutemen.  And if you’re unfamiliar with The Minutemen (though I know you know at least one of their songs), track down a copy of Double Nickels on the Dime as quickly as you can.  I’ll expect an essay in my inbox next Monday.

In new album news, The Dandy Warhols are releasing a live album from their recent tour for the 13th anniversary of Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia.  I happened to be at one of the hometown shows, though I’m unsure if it was the one that was recorded (or whether the album will be a mix from both shows). That’s an album that should be considered a classic (perhaps the subject of a future TL;DR?), and any time you know that you are guaranteed to hear “Big Indian”, you should take that opportunity.

And while I was typing up this roundup, I saw a message from Spoon on Facebook.  This is great news indeed.

Finally, if you didn’t catch The National on SNL this week, please do so now.