Moon Duo, the long-term and highly productive collaboration between Sanae Yamada and Ripley Johnson (of Wooden Shijps), return with Stars are the Light and immediately things are different. For this, their seventh album out now on Sacred Bones Records, the sometimes gritty edge of previous Moon Duo outings is noticeably restrained, such that those coming to this album anticipating the loping prog-psych of the two Occult Architecture albums, for example, might be initially disappointed. Instead, this is an album of careful electronically-focused composition which, in the hands of producer Sonic Boom (Peter Kember of Spacemen 3, Spectrum and E.A.R) is satisfying but never intrusive.

“Flying” kicks off with a deliciously funky synth bassline, over which delicate guitar lines echo and weave. Immediately the mood conjured, while the softest of heavily-reverberated vocals whisper lovingly, is of a rounder, more relaxed and, perhaps, more internationally-focused version of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Indeed, starting exactly as the album continues, “Flying” shifts the frame for Moon Duo away from the previously expertly-mined San Francisco psychedelic references and towards the more pastoral compositions of Pye Corner Audio or The Focus Group, replacing their misty hauntology with the hazy summer sun of Golden Gate Park.

“Stars are the Light” offers a summer afternoon dance tune, one of those songs that manages to capture the line between happy and melancholy that The Beloved and, indeed, Spiritualized, were such experts at mining. Again, the muted vocals are largely unintelligible but offer a duet of glossolalia between Johnson and Yamada where phrases surface briefly above the skittering synth-bell arpeggios and light-touch disco beats before submerging into the shimmering depths of the track.

More major-chord arpeggios hold the centre of “Fall (In Your Love)” around which guitars are picked and plucked, while “Eye 2 Eye” brings the fuzzy guitars back and, whilst still restrained when compared to previous Moon Duo standards, the relentless motorik beat and washed out layers of guitar make this perhaps the most familiar Moon Duo track of the album, the one where the links to the past (both theirs and of the genres they so confidently explore) are most audible. In comparison, “Eternal Shore” foregrounds Yamada’s gentle vocals over a clever 5/4 rhythm, supported by spacious guitar licks, multiple organ flourishes and an unflappable bassline.

In discussing the album’s origins and, especially, the shift in sound towards this rhythmically conscious and electronically focused mood and away from the psychedelic and kosmische influences, Yamada comments that “we have changed, the nature of our collaboration has changed, the world has changed, and we wanted the new music to reflect that.” The song structures offers cycles and patterns, repetition and return, a marked difference to the longer form linear explorations of previous Moon Duo albums. As a result, the more familiar genre references are contained and what’s foregrounded instead is much more of Yamada’s own synth work and delicate vocals than have been heard previously. In return and across the album, danceability is the focus, and whilst these are not songs for clubbing by any stretch of the imagination, there’s a deft interplay of rhythm and spaciousness in the overt references to disco that will leave one moving in time without realizing it.

Stars are the Light is a delight, something to return to often. It’s an album of atmospheres as much as it is songs and one whose moods are rarely experienced in contemporary popular culture; wholesome, restorative and fun.

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