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  Asobi Seksu  
Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  Inspector Jason  

I discovered Asobi Seksu in 2006 when I walked into Criminal Records and spotted the band's previous full-length release, Citrus, on the new release shelf with the handwritten staff pick description, "Shoegazer-ific!", written above it. Since I tend to gravitate towards all things shoegazer, I picked this CD to check out in the listening post and then purchased it after hearing the first two tracks. I tracked down Asobi Seksu's self-titled debut album soon after and, over the following year, I saw the band three times in concert. It goes without saying that I fell in love with Asobi Seksu's Citrus right away and loved the band's trademark of crashing waves of guitar distortion combined with a 1960s girl-group pop sensibility.

With their new album Hush, Asobi Seksu are reduced back to the two founding band members, Yuki Chikudate (vocals, synths, organs) and James Hanna (vocals, guitar, bass, synths). Asobi Seksu's trademark sound is likewise scaled down. If Citrus was the sound of guitar waves crashing down upon the listener, then Hush evokes the feeling of drifting in open water in the middle of a calm sea after the listener has already been carried off shore by the waves. An ocean storm arises occasionally, but, for the most part, Hush lives up to its album title by removing the focus from guitars to keyboards. With the newfound emphasis on keyboards, synths, and organs, Asobi Seksu increasingly conjures the spirit of quieter Cocteau Twins and Slowdive material instead of that of My Bloody Valentine or Ride. Asobi Seksu is still a shoegazer band here, but it's a quieter journey.

The album opens with Layers, a track with a slow buildup in intensity that gradually spreads into a rain of subdued guitar. Familiar Light follows as a slightly louder track signified by single-take guitar and superb percussion from one of the band's studio drummers.

James Hanna's guitar is present throughout the album, but, with the exception of the final moments of the single, Me & Mary, Hanna's playing never explodes into a distorted wall of sound. For the most part, the guitars are kept in the background while the vocals and overall composition of songs command the attention. Yuki Chikudate's vocals are stellar throughout, and her singing is given an additional authority for not being overwhelmed with the instrumentation. I do miss the reckless abandon distortion of the songs from Citrus, such as Nefi + Girly, where the guitar gloriously buries the landscape, but the band's newfound focus on composition is equally appealing. The Japanese-style girl pop of Asobi Seksu's earlier songs has likewise been replaced with a more mature feel.

The critiques of Asobi Seksu's Hush that I've read so far accuse the band of having an album full of ideas instead of an album full of songs. I don't agree with this description, and I've found that most of these songs come together into fully-realized entities. While it's true that the calm-before-the-storm moments that start Hush never actually develop into a full blown storm, the soundscapes do play out well in the form of pleasing rain showers with occasional thunder and lightning off in the distance.

Glacially is the best moment on the new album and it's the first great song of 2009. After the song opens with a deliberate bass line, everything comes together into a perfect shoegazer pop chorus and closes with one of the rare moments on this album where James Hanna handles vocals. In The Sky is another perfect moment that could have fit in well on the second side of the Cocteau Twins album, Heaven Or Las Vegas.

Asobi Seksu's chosen direction for Hush may turn off a number of listeners, but I'm still along for the ride. The band could have easily cashed further with the guitar distortion-meets-girl pop that has defined their live appearances, but the new album's commanding presence of keyboards and single-take guitar slices sounds to me like the other side of a coin instead of the bottom of the barrel. Of course, Asobi Seksu is primarily a fine live band, so I'm curious to see how these new songs translate to their beautifully chaotic live shows.

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Also on EvilSponge:
   Concert: Mon.8.Nov.04
   Album: Asobi Seksu
   Concert:  Mon.14.Feb.05
   Festival Performance: South by SouthWest 2005 - Day 1
   Concert: Thu.19.Oct.06
   7": Stay Awake b/w Then He Kissed Me
   7": Me & Mary b/w Breathe Into Glass


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