Ripley Johson and Sanae Yamada of Moon Duo specialize in their hometown of San Francisco’s current favorite flavor: bleary, sun-baked psych-rock. The nine songs on Circles cruise by at the same mid-tempo throb, the kick drum marking time like highway lines disappearing beneath your wheels. The fuzz tone is thicker than tar, and the guitars stay hunched over two chords. If you stare directly at this music for too long, your pupils might start pinwheeling. Driving, repetitious and hypnotic, the duo stretches out the basic materials of stoner rock so far that the result teeters on ambient music. Things happen in Moon Duo’s songs, but on their own sweet time.
On their last full-length, Mazes, however, their lava-lamp blobs started to suspiciously resemble songs, a development that continues on Circles. If you peek through the heat shimmer, you’ll start to discern Jesus and Mary Chain-style heartbreakers moving beneath it, like on the major-key title track or the wistful, chiming “Trails.” Their extended two-chord vamps have sneakily gotten groovier too: The five-and-a-half-minute “Free Action” spikes its slow head-nodding action with a polyrhythmic spatter of claps and stomps. At its most potent, Circles hits a frictionless bliss: Standing almost completely still has rarely felt this cool or dynamic.