Moon Duo yield vastly different results with the same basic setup on their second Occult Architecture album. Released in the dead of winter, its predecessor was as cold and claustrophobic as a gloomy crawlspace. Vol. 2 retains vestiges of that sound, but it's airy and celebratory where its predecessor was dense and foreboding. The Portland pair embrace vitality and exploration, but their polarized approach to psychedelia overcompensates at times.
From the album's opening synth beeps, the band strike a better balance with their guitar- and synth-based approach. Guitarist Ripley Johnson doesn't completely abandon the low, fuzzed-out tone that dominated Vol. 1, but he modulates his playing more often. Phaser effects blow through most tracks, and his wispy, wah-wah inflected leads on "Mirror's Edge" produce a pleasantly placid effect. This opens up the band's sound and gives keyboardist Sanae Yamada room to breathe. Her sweeping synth work on "Lost in Light" gives it an expansive quality that seemed impossible on Vol. 1.
If that album felt tight and controlled, though, Vol. 2 offers a little too much slack. Nearly half the tracks are instrumental, and these passages drift on aimlessly. The band lacks the dynamism and rhythmic versatility needed to sustain these digressions. While Johnson's soloing adds colour to songs like ten-minute closer "The Crystal World," it doesn't command the listener's attention.
The Occult Architecture albums prove that Moon Duo can be fraught and tranquil in equal measure. Unfortunately, nailing a balance between these moods doesn't come as easily. (Sacred Bones)