Moon Duo - Circles (Souterrain Transmissions)

Having quickly gained a large following out of their first EP and album, Moon Duo are rising again with another dirty spurt of alt-creativity. Sold-out shows and an initial fan base carried over from Wooden Shjips are just driftwood that lies in their wake as they haul their nets out for another shoal of listeners.

Released Nov 11th, 2012 via Souterrain Transmissions / By Jack Sibley
Moon Duo - Circles (Souterrain Transmissions) On first listening, this seems in a way more grounded than their previous attempts. Their minimal lyrics are as indistinguishable as ever but a small evolution sets them to shorter songs. This gives the result of a fresh speed in change of section within their ocean of ostinato bass. Great washes of reverb are another hallmark that has remained and their trademark gritty guitars still scramble over the top of these once everlasting seas - now reduced to more fathomable ponds. And fathomable they are – some of these songs carry a large whiff of catchiness and classic pop that belies their earlier, more grandiose efforts.

Ever lingering, the desire to maintain a high art status is still held by the band and this album was based on an essay of the same name written in 1841 by Ralph Waldo Emerson (to whom we shall henceforth refer to as ‘Wally’).

Wally said in this essay that the circle was the basic shape in nature and pretty much everything else too. Wally referred to the eye as the first circle but went on to talk about the cyclical nature of the rise and fall of empires, the seasons and a human’s life with constant conflicts and resolutions. Thus every end is a new beginning. Every death is a new life. Every ‘thing’ can be viewed as one side of a coin the other side of which is an opposite and equal ‘thing’.

However, said Wally, these circles (that are in everything) grow and, every so often, burst rapidly outwards. A great thinker will push the boundaries of society’s circle far outwards and then others will help cement that circle and push it slightly further. Meanwhile – all still according to Wally - older generations cling to the smaller circle.

Of course because these circles still circumference the older circles, they are always generalisations or unifications of those which have gone before. As our knowledge of the laws of nature progress they always seem to unify into simpler particles, equations and theories. As we get further into the 21st century’s popular rock music, the key thematic material increasingly seems to be reminiscences or combinations of that which has gone before.

So, I see you ask as you scratch your furry chin, what has old Wally got to do with Moon Duo. Well, it would seem there are three possible options:

Firstly, there is the possibility that Moon Duo believe themselves to be amongst the ‘great thinkers’ of our time – bursting open into new ground, the circumference of which is yet to be found and consolidated. This would mean they would attempt to sort the wheat from the chaff of what has gone before and conclude in a unifying concept. The duo certainly wear their influences on their sleeves and, with this new record, seem to pull a more diverse range of ideas into the mix. The new classical pop aesthetic is a major change and could be said to ‘unify’ separate concepts. But this is an idea that has been tackled before, which brings me to the second reason they might rank themselves amongst such lofty scholarship: has ‘Circles’ found themselves resigned to merely consolidating and hemming in the circle they find themselves a part of?

Is this a recognition that they are only a product of their cultures whilst carrying the knowledge of their forefathers in their bosoms? This unfortunately seems more likely due to very familiar melodies (the main theme for Trails can be found performed by The Violent Femmes in ‘Blister in the Sun’) and the lack of significant detachment from other projects including the fact that there has been no attempt to disconnect from Wooden Shjips (all promotional material of theirs still carries this name emblazoned upon it). If this is so, it is a commendable tactic for maintaining a fanbase within their already contained circle and it remains to be seen whether or not this is a negative action.

Of course, this conundrum can only be answered by the next circle and the generalisations it will make. When the next circle is drawn in the world of alternative rock and, furthermore, music, everything is at risk of condemnation, and only then can we have a better understanding of whether this is a product of active innovation or passive acceptance.

Either way, they’ve fulfilled Wally’s philosophy, which is to accept and encompass all that arrives at the edge of your circle, whether good or bad. Be who you are, accept that which is unchangeable, and just live. It is hard to deny that Moon Duo have done a lot of accepting themselves. Whether they’ve pushed any circles or not, you can’t say they haven’t been and, to quote their first EP, Killing Time. In fact, you might even say this is the product of a ‘Sleepwalker’. Perhaps, in fact, the whole spoilt aspiration to stoned boredom that has been a hallmark of alt-rock for decades, can be crystallised here in the ‘just be’ philosophy. This would go further to suggesting that this is a final hemming in of the circumference of a circle started around half a century ago.

But let’s take Wally’s advice and stop thinking so much. In the current circle of reality, it sounds great, has genuinely catchy melodies, and will fill a neat gap in the record collections of fans of the long-trodden path of alternative-rock

Oh and the third reason they may have decided to base their album on Wally is because they were high and thought it would be funny to make music fans read an essay which, by merit of the gap of time between their reading and the author’s writing, claims itself to be irrelevant. For this, I would applaud them.