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Asobi Seksu – Hush

March 23, 2009
Asobi Seksu - Hush

Asobi Seksu - Hush

Asobi Seksu are a band that has claimed many adjectives. Their self-titled debut was, in a word, charming. It’s 2006 follow-up, Citrus, was, in another word, breathtaking (and I believe an easy pick for best album of 2006). Most bands would be happy to have just those words, but this band has garnered many more: “electric,” “judicious,” “succulent” and “charismatic,” among many others. How many more positive things can one say about a band? It seems to make sense, then, that not as many wonderful things are being said about the band’s new album, Hush. After all, where do you go once you get to the top of the mountain, like Asobi Seksu did with Citrus?

In retrospect, two options seem obvious. Both involve a step downward in quality, because there was no way they were going to trump Citrus, no matter what. Option one involves doing more of the same glittery shoegaze that we love, and getting blasted for not doing anything different. Option two involves dressing down their sound to something more subdued, and that is exactly what core members Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna do on Hush.

What this does is test their songwriting ability by leaving it to be the main attraction of the album. The tunes here are, instead of empowered and youthful like on Citrus, serious and contemplative. Also, the band switch from big room-filling My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegaze to more elegant Cocteau Twins-esque dreampop. The appearance of Chikudate on the cover might match this sound, as it did on the previous albums. More often than not, this new sound works, and we once again get the feeling that these musicians really are quite talented. Some songs, namely “Layers” and “Transparence,” find the band playing more charmingly simple music that works because they know how to match their new icy dreampop sound with simple melodies.

Without their sonic dress-up, Chikudate’s lyrics now reveal themselves as actually being a lot like Hannah’s. When he sang on songs like “Pink Cloud Tracing Paper” on Citrus, Hannah sounded shy, but that sort of shy vocal style that we find kind of cute. We got a taste of that from Chikudate too, but on Hush just about all of the vocals are like this, restrained. We want them to be brave and shout out, but they never seem to. In terms of instrumentation, they make similar conscious refrains. We do get hints of the reverb that we have heard from them in the past, but sometimes we can barely even hear any guitar (“Gliss”). The end product is ultimately very reserved, and we get the feeling that if we accompanied these songs with the self-assured sonic hugeness that the band had claimed previously, we’d get a lot more truly memorable songs.

And in fact, they do this exactly once, on the album’s first single, “Me & Mary.” The song sounds like a Citrus outtake, and it proves that their songwriting ability is still outwardly excellent if it is presented with this vitality. The rest of the album screams out to be fully expressed like “Me & Mary,” particularly on songs like “Familiar Light,” “Gliss,” and “Glacially.” It’s as if they are giving us a taste of what they could really accomplish should they decide to re-introduce the muscular production they once used, but its conscious shedding takes away something really important. The “Exotic Animal Paradise” we heard on Citrus may still be here, but it is deliberately obscured to the point where it is barely cognizable.

The most interesting thing about Hush is that it wears its sound and potential weaknesses on its sleeves. This could be seen as very empowering. We don’t have to search for an all-encompassing adjective here. It is provided for us. “Hush” was the logical next step, but there was more than one option. A very telling fact springs from the title of the album’s only instrumental interlude, “Risky and Pretty.” Asobi Seksu are good at being pretty, and they don’t have to be risky to be successful. The self titled album and Citrus were both accessible, loveable albums, and this one had the potential to be as much. The decision to make a sound change wasn’t necessarily a damning idea, but the risk they decided to take feels more like a calculated business decision. “Risky” would have been to not be afraid to stick with what works. But it should be said that Asobi Seksu make the sound switch fairly intelligently despite its inherent shortcomings, and they also still know how to write catchy tunes. So Hush will please fans, but it isn’t anywhere near the quality of its predecessors. But even if it was a complete disaster, I would have still bought tickets to see Asobi Seksu on March 28th. I haven’t given up on this band’s capability to make excellent albums. They are two for three, after all, so they have earned the benefit of the doubt as well as my encouragement as a fan to try whatever kind of sound they please.

Asobi Seksu

Asobi Seksu

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One comment

  1. I searched them on iTunes. I really like them!!!



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