Moon Duo

Stars Are the Light

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The sounds that emanate from the speakers when first dipping into Moon Duo's seventh studio album, Stars Are the Light, are different enough from previous works that it wouldn't be all that wrong to wonder if maybe there was a mix-up at the pressing plant. "Flying" is languid and hazy, with Ripley Johnson's guitar dialed deep back in the mix, sequenced synths up front, a shuffling slow-motion funk beat slowly pushing the song forward while Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada's vocals are relaxed to the point of somnambulance, even more than usual. It doesn't sound much like classic Moon Duo and only sharp-eared listeners who remember the track "Mirror's Edge" from 2017's Occult Architecture, Vol. 2 might recognize the new direction this track, and most of the album, is heading. Working with Sonic Boom on the mixing desk and heavily inspired by shimmering disco and the ambient pop of the '90s, the duo cast their old ways of working and sounding aside in favor of something lighter, softer, and more sparkly. Apart from the occasional bit that sounds a little undercooked, Stars works pretty well as a slice of escapist, warm-blooded dance-pop. In songs like "The World and the Sun" or the title track, where the drums rattle back and forth, the bass gets a groove going, and the guitar and synth give off glittering sparks, the band bump right up against the kind of trancey, blissed-out feel they are aiming for. The slower pieces don't work quite as well, though even these are made pleasant by Johnson's snaking guitar leads ("Fall [In Your Love]") and the expansive mixing Mr. Boom provides. Hidden near the end of the album, coming just as eyelids are starting to droop, "Eye 2 Eye" delivers the churning guitars and propulsive beats one might expect from the band, only in this case they sound out of context and a little harsh. Ending the record with the calmest, most tripped-out ballad of the bunch, "Fever Night," doesn't quite repair the damage done, and it only points out the uneven nature of the record. When it's good and the band comes across as confident and focused, it feels like they made the right choice to head off into the pillowy dreamland. Other times, when a duff synth sound or a tinny drum machine lets them down, it's hard not to miss the traditional Moon Duo approach.

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