Moon Duo have one trick that they've been doing since their first record came out in 2009. Guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson and keyboardist/vocalist Sanae Yamada make droning, motorik psychedelic jams that sound like the soundtrack for a road trip to inner space. Some of their albums have harnessed this trick into something magical and unique (Mazes, Shadow of the Sun); some have coasted on their trademarked sound without breaking a sweat (Circles). Arriving in 2017, Occult Architecture, Vol. 1 is a bit of a stumble into the latter category. After making a shockingly varied and expansive album with 2015's Shadow of the Sun, the duo, plus drummer John Jeffrey, spends too much time here letting songs roll on (and on) without any tension or dynamics. The guitars sound suitably blown-out and fuzzy, the keyboards provide drones and the occasional blip of melody, and Jeffrey is strong on the tracks he plays on, but too often the songs just seem to lay back and hang out contentedly instead of making a splash. There are the occasional moments when they rise above autopilot to do something interesting, like on the opening "The Death Set," which has swooning chord changes and some surprising new wave synth sounds. Or the frantically pulsing "Cross-Town Fade," where Johnson's guitars sound raw and nervy and the energy levels are pumped up close to ten. "Will of the Devil" is maybe the most interesting song of the bunch, as it goes beyond their usual two-chord approach to add a couple extra, as well as some spooky new wave keys. There aren't enough times when Moon Duo change things up, go outside their locked-in comfort zone, or give the listener something to hold onto beyond the pleasingly psychedelic sound they've honed to a point. For an album that purports to be about the darkness of winter, the powers of magick, and the outer limits of consciousness, they don't bring a lot of depth or passion to the subjects. It really sounds like a basic Moon Duo album, which is still a good thing, but just not as special as it could have been if they had taken another step like they did with Shadow of the Sun. This feels less like a step in any direction than it does a pleasantly trippy holding pattern.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra