Spacemen two

Pub date December 2, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

“I think our interest in the spheres is less scientific, less intellectual, and more primal,” Ripley Johnson of Moon Duo says, when asked if he and bandmate Sanae Yamada have a particular fascination with deep space. “I see it as a sort of existential mirror, or perhaps a visceral catalyst for existential experience.”
The eye-catching quartet of NASA-ESA Hubble Space Telescope images on the cover of Moon Duo’s four-song EP Killing Time (Sacred Bones) evoke untouched realms and a sense of unknowing, even foreboding. But in their uniformity, they don’t bring across the recording’s range, which sways from bass-driven gothic isolation (the title track) to an organ sound that pulses with druggy intensity (“Speed”) to haunted house psych rock (“Dead West”) to tranquility (“Ripples”). Impressively, Killing Time’s disparate songs seem built upon a single mutating rhythm. “I think of it less as motorik than as biological, like the beating of a heart,” says Johnson. “It’s the pulse of life, and I think that’s how we relate to motorik, the sounds of machines, engines, wheels on the highway, trains going down the track. That’s why the song ends but the beat always goes on.”
Moon Duo’s sound isn’t as dense as that of Johnson’s other Bay Area band, Wooden Shjips, but it’s at least as potent. A satellite release before Escape, an album out on Woodsist in the new year, Killing Time essentially throws down the gauntlet in the space race amongst local kosmische- and krautock-influenced groups. The visceral peak is “Speed,” a blast worthy of its obvious antecedents, Suicide and Spacemen 3.
“The first Suicide album [Suicide, 1977; Mute/Blast] is one of the great rock albums of all time,” Johnson says, promptly drifting from Suicide-al thoughts into a discussion of the second word in his band’s name. “I was thinking about favorite duos, because it doesn’t seem like a common arrangement for rock. The inspiration for us initially came from jazz, like the great Rashied Ali albums with John Coltrane and Frank Lowe. But some of my favorite rock-ish albums were made by duos or near-duos: Silver Apples, Royal Trux, Moolah, Chrome, Cluster.”
As for favorite moon movies, Johnson has some. “Probably either A Trip to the Moon (1902) or Countdown (1968),” he says. “I really like non-Hollywood action sci-fi movies, like Solaris (2002), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Alphaville (1965), Fahrenheit 451, and La jetée (1962).”