Moon Duo’s fourth full-length release gets off to a promising start with the hooky, danceable six-minute sojourn “The Death Set.” With spacey, whispery vocals and galactic musical settings that bridge the distance between Hawkwind and the Jesus and Mary Chain, the track promises the listener a ride into the heart of something dark, something mellow and something to sink your teeth into like a fresh-baked space cake. If you miss the darker turns of Love and Rockets or the gory, glory days of early goth, it’s a ride for you.
One track, though, does not a whole album make, and even on that opener, a sense of mood over composition sets in. Some of the passages settle in for too long, becoming too comfortable in their tendency to moan and drone and offering little for the listener who wants to move forward and get excited as often as they want to gaze at their overpriced shoes.

There’s promise behind material such as “Cold Fear” and “Cross-Town Fade,” both kicking in with exciting, jaw-dropping vibes and then getting trapped in their own sense of the obscure. In “Cross-Town Fade,” fuzzy, faux-Hendrix lead guitar lines crash the mix as though from a different room and the result is a temporary chaos that makes a return to the piece’s main thrust hard to follow at best and, at worst, just confusing.

The Portland-based duo bounces back, though. “Cult of Moloch” is easily one of this record’s best cuts, a keenly focused dab of space exploration that often calls to mind a darker, more sinister version of Can while a deep devotion to Hawkwind prevails across the surprisingly compact seven-plus minutes. Drums pound, bass and guitar lines move across the sound spectrum creating the disorienting sense of euphoria that has long been Moon Duo’s weightless bread and butter.

Meanwhile, “Creepin’” excels as a succinct statement brimming with heartfelt enthusiasm and a propulsive dignity that catches us by the earlobe early and refuses to let us go until the very last note. Grouped with “Cult of Moloch” and the penultimate “Will of the Devil,” these pieces create an alternate universe of possibilities in which the collection is shorn of its excess and delivered in a more succinct and impactful package.

The closing 10-minute piece, “White Rose” wants to bring together the best of the Krautrock-influenced moments mentioned earlier, but instead of going for that music’s meditative glory, it becomes mired in repetition and a crippling tendency toward style over substance, the very thing that hobbles some of the lesser pieces.

In the end, Moon Duo might have emerged with a much stronger EP than LP if some of this had been left on the cutting room floor or held onto until it could be more fully developed. It’s almost painful not to like this effort as much as Shadow of the Sun or Circles. Those releases also had their faults, but they were easier to take. There was, perhaps, less at stake and less a sense of history to guide the listener and ask tough questions of the music. Occult Architecture isn’t a fatal flaw in the MD oeuvre, just a step that disappoints at times while still managing to provide glimpses of the pair’s raw, and considerable, powers.

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