On their third full-length, Moon Duo come down decidedly more on 2011's Mazes' end of the scale than they do on either Escape or Killing Time from 2010. The guitar pyrotechnics that were so prevalent on the earlier albums were firmly a part of Ripley Johnson's other identity -- as songwriter and lead guitarist for Wooden Shjips, where sprawling post-psych jams are the norm rather than the exception. On Mazes, his guitar playing became a more integrated part of the ensemble with Sanae Yamada's organ and the cheap drum machine they employ. There are still solo breaks, but they aren't nearly as labyrinthine; they serve to weave themselves back into the extremely repetitive two- or three-chord structures of the tunes. But where Mazes attempted to open up the band's sound to everything from psych-era pop to Krautrock, Circles reins it in, almost suffocatingly so. Some of these tunes rock a bit harder. "Sleepwalker" and "Free Action" owe a real debt to Alan Vega and Martin Rev's Suicide. The title number, with its hooky dual-vocal refrain, Stooges-like vamp, and tight, reverb-free guitar break, is a real bright spot. "Trails," a conscious attempt at a more pop-oriented sound, falls flat, unfortunately, primarily because it never travels very far along that road. "Sparks" is merely a murky muddle of sound thinly disguised as a song. The only real stunner here is "Rolling Out." Johnson's guitar mania unfurls itself as Yamada's organ shimmers and pulses; it contains a darker, decidedly more sinister tinge and is a welcome closer. Ultimately, Circles is pleasant and even fun in places, while being somewhat tedious and even boring in others. Its appeal beyond Moon Duo's active cult is difficult to gauge, but given their devil-may-care attitude, they likely won't care much either way.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek