Asobi Seksu Dabbles in Dream-Pop

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Author: Thomas Schryver

Five years after their inception, New York collective, Asobi Seksu, is back with their third LP, Hush.

Asobi Seksu, which is Japanese for “playful sex,” consists of the songwriting duo, James Hanna (guitar, vocals) and Yuki Chikudate (lead vocals, keys), with a rotating cast of auxiliary members currently including Larry Gorman (drums) and Billy Pavone (bass).

Hush is certainly both playful and sexy, but far more contemplative and sedated than Asobi Seksu’s previous releases. Asobi Seksu’s previous album, Citrus, showcased the band in full shoegaze-revivalist stride. Washing echoes of distorted guitars, furious reverb-drenched post-punk drumming, and delicate female vocals, pushed back into the mix, shone in the album that propelled Asobi Seksu to international recognition and cult fandom.

However, Hush is subtler, shyer, and quirkier than its preceding album. “We knew we didn’t want to do 7,000 reverb guitars this time…so we stripped the sound down and built it back up from there,” wrote Hanna on the band’s official website.

Where Citrus was noisy, reverberating, and distorted, Hush is smoother, pristine, and lush. The echoing guitars and swimming vocals are still intact, but this time clarity and sonic experimentation takes precedence over the more organic and chaotic Noise Pop that characterized Asobi Seksu’s previous work. Following their recent single release, “Stay Awake,” which contained a b-side cover of The Crystals’ classic, “And Then He Kissed Me”, Asobi Seksu have been shying away from the shoegaze label and have set sail into that nebulous and fluffy territory referred to as “Dream Pop.”

“Familiar Light” manages to combine both delta-wave dreaminess and gloriously illustrated neurosis, in which Chikudate belts out a chorus about “bees in the attic, acidic with panic” to the pace of Gorman’s militaristic and pounding drum beat.

The whimsical, “Glacially,” which carries Pixies-esque careening and sliding guitar chords, is another standout example of a calm and meditative track that manages to carry a significant amount of energy.

The highlight of the album is its seventh track, “In The Sky,” a weightless, ethereal, and ascending ballad that harkens back fond memories of Pilot Wings on Nintendo 64.

Minimal guitar, steady drumming, and sparsely-struck electronic keys compliment Chikudate’s layered and chorus-soaked vocals that rise like helium bubbles.

“Meh No Mae” is another beautiful example of Asobi Seksu’s newfound otherworldly, stratospheric exploration, in which the group flicks the figurative anti-gravity switch with each verse in the song, reverting to more concrete and grounded choruses.

The fuzzy and kaleidoscopic “Risky and Pretty” stands as Asobi Seksu’s most complete instrumental piece to date, and the “wall of sound” production on “Blind Little Rain” offers a soft, luscious, Motown deliciousness that Asobi Seksu fans have likely not heard before. The song also features the hypnotizing vocals of Chikudate, who sings timidly about feeling “the grass under our sneakers,” which strangely might be the sexiest thing she has sang since her lyrics, “disconnect the feeling factory; push your tongue up to my battery.”

One of the album’s bonus tracks, an acoustic version of what is arguably Asobi Seksu’s most popular song to date, “Thursday,” caps the album off in beautiful melodrama. Sounding like a collaboration between Feist and the Everly Brothers, this sparse guitar, tambourine, and glockenspiel rendition of “Thursday” is a Citrus song done in the fashion of Asobi Seksu’s currently evolving sound. The original song’s 4/4 meter has been switched to a ¾ rhythm, allowing “Thursday” to adopt that classic weepy, slow-dance “Earth Angel” 1950s feel. The song is replete with Chikudate’s spoken French translations of the lyrics dubbed over her singing for maximum schmaltzy, but emotionally moving, effect.

Musically, Hush delivers with beautiful instrumentation, creativity, skill, and innovation. Larry Gorman’s drumming is fantastic, safely surpassing even the percussive prowess of the band’s former drummer, Ben Shapiro. Perhaps the only true weakness of Asobi Seksu’s music is their running list of lackluster bassists, who seem far more comfortable riding the bottom string than attempting anything dangerous or experimental. Then again, it may be a beneficial to have more of an anchoring instrument in the midst of Asobi Seksu’s dizzying sonic layering.

Hush is like a geothermal-powered village in an arctic tundra. It’s built for white cloudy mornings and afternoons and airfare travel. This is an album that sounds like Superman’s daydreaming hours in his fortress of solitude. Overall, this album is a keeper, and will be in my car stereo for months to come. It’s anything but a “first-listen” album, but Asobi Seksu fans and newcomers alike will not be let down.

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