A while back Asobi
Seksu played The EARL opening for The Futureheads. I had
not heard Asobi Seksu before, but The Futureheads were recommended
to me. So one fateful day while i was waiting for the FTP server
at work to cooperate, i went to The
Earl website and clicked the band link listed for Asobi
Seksu. Most bands have MP3 samples on their website, so i figured
i would check out the band before going to see them.
The first song for download was the lead track on their self-titled debut album, a track called I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me. I sat at my desk with the MP3 blaring in my headphones while i glared at the FTP program and became totally enraptured by this song. It starts off nice and poppy with female Japanese lyrics, then, on the chorus, it explodes into a frenzy of over-driven guitar with the voice really soaring while the bass and drums hammer away in the background. A truly transcendant listening experience that combines the noisy distortion of My Bloody Valentine with the pop of Stereolab, or maybe even Pizzicato Five. The song utterly rules, and i was hooked.
I went and saw Asobi Seksu in concert that night, and thought that they pulled this song off remarkably well in a live setting. So i bought the album, yelling a greeting and a heartfelt thank you to tiny Japanese singer/keyboardist Yuki Chikudate over the crappy sounds of the middle band.
The next day, i carried this self-titled album around with me, listening to it over and over again. I am pleased to announce that not only does I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me stand up to repeated listens, but there are many other good tunes on Asobi Seksu. In fact, the song Umi De No Jisatsu follows the same general format as I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me in that it combines noise and Japan pop into one useful whole, but it is different enough to stand on its own. That is, if the lead off track achieved My Bloody Valentine levels of distortion, this song references The Jesus and Mary Chain and the thick distortion they used on Psychocandy. Later on the album, Asobi Masho takes the formula to a whole new level of overdriven guitar catchiness when Asobi Seksu take on the sludgy noise of Spaceman 3.
Not all of the songs are noisy and poppy and feature Japanese vocals. Walk on the Moon is sung in English and it's not so much noisy as it is dramatically loud. The song swells in the middle to a frenzy that is not based on pedals so much as it is on hammering away at the instrumentation. It's Too Late is kind of like Walk on the Moon in that it swells up nicely without any real overdrive, but the beginning pace is melancholy and glacial. This is a sad tune, but it is well done and rather lovely. On the opposite end of the same spectrum, Taiyo features the Japanese vocals over a strong bass riff and some domineering keyboards that really explore the Stereolab side of their influences in a nice way. This is spacey lounge music, in Japanese.
And then, just to mix it up, guitarist James Hanna sings a few tunes. His voice makes Let Them Wait seem britpoppy, and, combined with the fuzziness of the guitars, it all makes this song remind me of The Boo Radleys. End at the Beginning grows in the same way as Walk on the Moon, only with a male voice instead. And Before We Fall is a sad slow minimal number of piano and strummed guitar with Hanna singing lead and Chikudate adding a nice backing harmony. One last track to mention is Stay, which is a beautiful slow duet sung by both of the vocalists.
Overall, there is much to like here. Asobi Seksu make music that is catchy and poppy, yet features a nice use of texture in the form of volume dynamics and distortion. The vocals are well done and provide a counterpoint to the overall melody without distracting from it. Finally, let's not forget the rhythm section, without which any rock band is doomed to failure. Bassist Glenn Waldman and drummer Keith Hopkin do a tremendous job and really hold the songs together while propelling the songs along.
This is their debut album and it seems rather impressive and professionally recorded, but apparently Asobi Seksu have been perfecting their sound in the New York City club scene for a while now, so their polished feel and fine songcrafting have come about the hard way.
After their set that first night Tracers turned to me and said, "This is exactly the type of music you like, isn't it?" She was right. Asobi Seksu does everything i would want a band to do. I am very impressed with this album, and look forward to hearing more from them.