Posts Tagged ‘asobi seksu’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Asobi Seksu Live at the Rock N Roll Hotel, 3/28/09

March 30, 2009

As I write this, my legs feel like Jell-O. Actually, my brain feels like Jell-O too, mostly because I am extremely tired. I have been a tour guide for three days. I never thought being a tour guide could be so fun or rewarding. I saw Asobi Seksu play at the Rock N Roll Hotel two nights ago. There are big Xs on my hands, still. Faded but still present.

The Rock N Roll hotel is, apparently, way far off from any Metro stations. The closest was the Union Station stop. From there I had to walk East about fifteen blocks on H St., into a seedy neighborhood. Both on the way there and back, the landscape of the damp, foggy streets were almost devoid of any other people, making the walk that much more eerie, and also that much easier for me to be able to stop and take some nice photos.

As it turns out, the Rock N Roll Hotel is a hole in the wall. Granted, it is a pretty cozy hole in the wall, and not an unenjoyable place to see a concert. It is just about the tiniest of clubs. I’m used to there being a division between the audience and the performers at the concerts I go to, but at the Hotel, there was none. It goes from floor to stage immediately. You could probably lean on the amps and no one would stop you. I didn’t have to show up early to end up being ten feet from lead singer Yuki Chikudate, and that was really nice. You get the feeling that you are connected to the artist the closer you are to them. Of course, I never really feel the need to be way up close for concerts, but for some reason, it felt important to me last night that I was able to be close.

The opening acts were good. The first act was local band Detox Retox, and while disco emo just isn’t my thing, they played well, did a pretty faithful version of Transmission by Joy Division (nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeves), and came out into the audience afterward to say hi to everybody and really they were just the nicest guys.

Aw, shucks.

Three-piece Detroit punk band Tyvek are the opening act that is touring with Asobi Seksu. They are Wire sound-alikes, but they are actually pretty great sound-alikes. Their stage presence is odd. The lead singer is frenetic and fast moving, the drummer plays standing up and seems to run through drumsticks every song, and the bass player almost catatonically calm. “Can you drive a Honda like I can drive a Honda?”

Then Asobi Seksu got up on stage to set up their gear, and after some sound issues got resolved, they started to play.

I hesitate to say that it was the loudest show I’ve ever been to, but now, two days later, my ears are still ringing. My ears haven’t rang for this long in a year, the last comparable time being when I attended the Hives’ show in Chicago, during which I and my group of friends allocated ourselves directly in front of the amps in the front row. That is a show we still refer to as “stupid loud.” Our ears rang for about a week after that.

Asobi Seksu may have been louder. It’s hard to tell, because I am pretty sure I got permanent ear damage from the aforementioned show, and therefore my hearing is now different. In any case, Asobi Seksu were really loud, but not “stupid loud.” The impression that I got from the Hives was that an extremely loud concert had to be “stupid loud.” But what really captured me about Asobi Seksu’s volume was how little it got in the way of the sonic detail which Asobi Seksu incorporate into their albums. At one time I thought incredible volume and that detail were mutually exclusive.

But Asobi Seksu are really all about detail. James Hannah and Yuki Chikudate, the core members of the band, make up the majority of the wall of sound that one hears at their show, with guitars and keyboards. It is just as astounding live as on record, specifically their second record, Citrus. When I reviewed the band’s new album, Hush, a couple weeks ago, my biggest complaint was that the presentation of the songs wasn’t quite as strong as on Citrus. The live show brought out the best of the new songs, which are melodically quite strong but didn’t really benefit from the production change on Hush. This might be because a lot of the new songs are slower and more gentle, so the toned down production might make them seem meandering.

The band’s live sound, however, features the bold, sweeping sound quality of Citrus, the true gem of their discography. The band played some of the gentler new songs, such as “In the Sky,” “Transparence,” and “Sing Tomorrow’s Praise” with the vivacity of that shoegaze sound quality, which was surprising because I wouldn’t have expected the fidelity to be that good in such a small, confined venue. They also tore through many of their Citrus-era classics, such as “Strawberries,” “New Years,” and of course “Thursday,” which got a big response from the audience.

Their stage presence was very lively. The amps and mics were adorned with Christmas lights, and in conjunction with the lights in the back, the stage took on a colorful glow (although you can’t really tell that from my pictures). The band weren’t all smiles, but really it would be wrong of me to demand for them to be. However, I found that many times, specifically when the strobelights on the stage started flashing, everyone on the stage was moving around and doing a lot of headbanging. To me, that was important to the show. It is important to see that the band are excited to be making music in order for the audience to be excited about hearing it. Chikudate brought up the front with her breathy vocals, keyboard and xylophone, while James Hannah had some really cool guitar heroics going on on stage right. After the resounding coda of “Strawberries,” Chikudate took her leather jacket off and every straight male in the audience needed to change their shorts.

But the really exciting part, as I expected, came with possibly the band’s greatest sound achievement, the blistering “Red Sea,” off of Citrus. By the time the epic, beautiful noise freakout started, everyone on stage was going crazy. What-seemed-like-eight-foot-tall bassist Billy Pavone was headbanging off the the right as drummer Larry Gorman crawled off of the kit and went somewhere, maybe off to where James Hannah was. But from where I was standing, Hannah was simply gone, perhaps on the ground furiously adding to the cacophony on his guitar. Yuki Chikudate proceeded to take to the drum kit herself, and produced a percussive onslaught that just about tore the place apart. Pretty much one of the most metal things I’ve ever seen. The band left the stage with the sound still resounding at a ludicrous volume which continued on with the strobe lights. The encore was equally as impressive as well as nuanced, with one of my personal favorite Asobi Seksu songs, “Strings,” a perfect song to round off the set.

The set ended up being twelves songs and clocking in at just over an hour, which would be my biggest complaint with the show, that is, that it was too short. The audience was probably about ready to take at least an hour more of the awesome din, and the band definitely have the catalogue of songs to fulfill that wish. I was shocked that they did not play their popular new single, “Me & Mary.” They also didn’t play any obscurities, let alone anything at all from their charming self-titled debut album, which has a lot of great but simple songs that I would imagine would also benefit from their live production. So in the end, the set was all too short, but quite sweet, split half and half between Citrus and Hush, a sensible move, despite the fact that I would have loved to have heard even more from Citrus; they played nothing from the album’s latter half, which is just as strong as the first.

For $15, a full night of entertainment like I got was a steal, and I would definitely pay to see Asobi Seksu any other time they are in my area. I have wanted to see Asobi Seksu for years, and they were just as good as I was hoping they would be. I walked away happy to have ringing ears; as focal to the band’s identity as their nectarous melodies is the vitality of their sound, and it comes out best when you really crank their albums. Their live show sees them at the height of that power, in their own musical nirvana, and is a show not to miss.

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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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Christmas Playlist

November 14, 2006

I make a lot of playlists on my iPod, but to be honest, the majority of them are total crap. Most of the time, I just kinda randomly put a bunch of songs that I am into at the moment onto a playlist and leave it extremely unbalanced and uneven, and nothing really connects the tracks at all. But every once and a while I end up with an arrangement of songs worth keeping. Not THAT often, but sometimes. I don’t know if this playlist is one of them, but I tried at least.

Really, the idea at first was to make it a playlist for Winter in general, but then it sort of escalated to a Christmas thing, just because really, the best part of Winter is when it starts in December through Christmas. Or rather, the holidays. I guess I want to be politically correct anyway (not that anyone should ever really care), but the gist of the album is to cover the time before the big holidays. Christmas just happens to be the religious holiday that I celebrate, albeit non-religiously, so that was the end result. I sort of had an image or an idea in my mind when I made this playlist, which is essentially the first step to making a great playlist anyway. You need to have a solid idea or at least a set of them, and a certain flow to the songs. And it needs to develop and progressively go somewhere. I’m not going to post the entire playlist here because I honestly don’t think it flows very well, but I’ll talk about some select tracks.

Baby It’s Cold Outside by Leon Redbone & Zooey Deschanel

Every good Christmas compilation needs a low key piano jazz holiday song like this. In fact, you could damn well make a CD full of stuff just like this. People do. But personally, the mood of these types of songs are something that I can easily get tired of. But this is a great song, no doubt. It was originally made in 1949 and is pretty much the perfect winter warm-up lazy duet. This particular version was on the soundtrack to the movie Elf, but there have been countless renditions since Frank Loesser wrote it so long ago. Througout the song, the female singer traditionally sings the main melody, while a typically deep voiced male accompaniment sort of passively comments on all of the womans standard lines of the Christmas tune with musings of his own. Truly a classic, and a great version of it at that. The perfect song for when you wake up to snow for the first time in November or December and think to yourself, “Aw shit, it’s the holiday season, isn’t it?”

Airbag by Radiohead

This was the first song I ever properly listened to by Radiohead, and I remember thinking to myself when I heard it, wow, this is really something special. I could rant for a while about how OK Computer is one of the greatest albums ever, but you all have surely had enough of that by now. Typically, this is the best song for me for getting up in the morning to a busy day. Not only is it a great and pretty underrated tune, but it’s Christmas-y. It even has the sleighbells, which are actually pretty hard to effectively work into a tune. The lyrics still always get me, especially when he says “An Airbag saved my life.” A really nice tune for any time of the year, but it is very fitting to winter in particular.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) by Asobi Seksu

I think you could argue that the heroes of the indie rock scene in New York this year are Asobi Seksu. Not only did they release a dropdead gorgeous album, Citrus, but they are touring and have a lot of merchandise and treats for people directly from their website. The most interesting of these treats is what I have a reason to believe was the first officially released Asobi Seksu song ever, although I think they had another name before Asobi Seksu so I very well could be wrong. The release is a joint EP of two Christmas songs released only on transparent green vinyl. PAS/CAL did a song, and Asobi Seksu did this one. It’s really very cute, as you would not normally expect shoegaze to cover Christmas song territory, but this band does and it works out pretty well, in a power punk/pop sort of way. You can just hear the guitars taking over when Yuki’s voice yelling the title of the song fades into the pillow of sound below. Nice, very nice.

Goodbye by Kevin Shields

You all know I just can’t possibly make a playlist these days without including something by one of my new favorite bands. Well, this isn’t actually by MBV, but I did include Soon, so you can count that in (come on, the sleighbells are just way too delicious). But I decided to include this too, from the Lost In Translation soundtrack. Of the four 2003 Kevin Shields orchestrations, this one might just be the most pretty. It’s not straightforward pop like City Girl and not electronic beauty like Are You Awake, but it is just very relaxing synthesizer ear candy. Decidedly it is very remeniscent of Becalmed and Zawinul/Lava by Brian Eno, but that’s good. You can really say a lot without saying anything, especially when you aren’t even using traditional instruments, in music. The piece is very momentuous, a bit somber, and also wonderfully reminiscent of times that one doesn’t want to go away. Get the Lost In Translation soundtrack if you can, it’s great. Filled with lots of priceless gems like this.

Lorelei by Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins are one of those bands that are so beautiful that it is painful. I don’t even know much about them and I can say that with the utmost confidence. And not because you want more Cocteau… There is more than enough material by the band to go around. These guys can simply make your heart melt by being themselves, beautiful, ethereal, and completely priceless. That explains why a “CocteauFest” is held every year. Expect me to review these guys again soon. They just seem like the band that I will end up getting obsessed with soon enough. Which is, as you all know, not good for my continued recovery, so I’ll keep it to Library checkouts and Christmas gifts for now. Anyway, fantastic song. Very Christmas-y, and it even has wintery synthesizers in the backdrop and guitars that are wispy like a first snow. This is how vocals should really be treated in dreampop…not even real words, but the tongue of ones own mind and feelings, completely unintelligible to anyone else but undeniably full of feeling.

Christmas At The Zoo by The Flaming Lips

If you haven’t gone to your local zoo in the dead of winter, well, you really should. It’s great. First off, it gets you off your ass and away from the eggnog for a few hours, which has got to be good for you, and the entire experience is just a lot of fun. No one is there, or at least very few people are, because it’s just cold, so you can kind of not worry about crowds. Beyond that, the animals love it when people visit them during such an otherwise dull and unpopular time of year to go to the zoo. Maybe this song is a little too fun and jangley to adequately capture such a visit, but it’s a necessity for this playlist. Strangely enough, although the subject matter is just as silly and cute as any other Lips song, this is one of the more straightforward and conventional the band has ever made.

Lovelife by Lush

I always thought that this song would be great for the soundtrack to a romantic comedy or something, which is a shame, because I typically dislike romantic comedies. But I make almost all of my playlists with images of a movie that I imagine in mind. No sleighbells in here, but it almost seems like there are, and the lyrics are diaphanous and sweet. The lyrics are very thought provoking too, comparing love and it’s ups and downs to different aspects of nature and life.

Good Day Sunshine by Slowdive

No, it’s not a cover of the song by The Beatles. It’s an original Halstead instrumental offof the 5 EP, also on the release of Souvlaki with the bonus tracks. In my mind, the ‘movie’ that this playlist is for comes to a hard point right before the end, and the main character ends up having a really shitty Christmas eve. But they wake up really really early in the morning, maybe before sunrise, and for whatever reason, everything is beautiful. The streets are empty, the decorations are all up, and even though almost no one is anywhere but home, all of the Christmas lights and neon signs are still lit. And then they go into the shell of a shopping mall, where only a few scattered stores are open, and the sun starts to rise. And it goes through the glass windows perfectly. And this song is playing through the entire ending sequence. And that’s all I’ve got, I guess that’s how my daydream ends.

Well, I didn’t (and couldn’t possibly) cover each and every song on the playlist, but I hit some more interesting ones I guess. Maybe it is just a tad early to be worrying about Christmas and the holiday season, but soon enough I’ll be gift shopping, and I’ll play this in the car.

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Asobi Seksu – Citrus

October 26, 2006


I do have more than one addiction you know. It’s not just buying stuff. I also have another, more healthy, material and borderline chemical addiction. It’s seasonal though. Every winter, clementines start appearing in the stores. I suppose you can get clementines at any time of the year, but in the summer they just aren’t the same. They are many times shrively and flavorless. But come, oh, late November through late March or so, the good ones are in stock. I’m a coinesseur by now, surely. The plump things will someday turn my skin orange, I swear. The best ones are from either Spain (where they taste of a sweet, almost perfume-like tint of flavor) or South Africa, but you can get a good or bad batch from anywhere. Those things are fricking dangerous. Eat one in the morning and you are hooked. You have to take one or two to work or school, or else you will end up feeling the pain. Anyway, this is one of the reasons why March is a crappy month for me many times, because I’m going through clementine withdrawal when the crappy ones hit the stores. I would be over at the grocery store seeing if they might have a half decent batch, but as I’m writing this, I’m essentially a chipmunk because I just got all four wisdom teeth out. PAIN. SUFFERING. BLOOD. HUNGER.

Sorry, I had to get the mindless rambling out of the way first. You all know I just love to do that, theres really no way around it. If I didn’t do it first I would end up doing it in the middle, so it’s really for the best. Anyway, I’d like to say that shoegaze isn’t dead. It just seems like whenever I am discussing the genre with someone, I hear a “shoegaze FTW” or “it’s dead man, let it go.” Shoegaze is only dead in the same way that many other subgenres are dead, meaning their popular time period has come and gone and now it has sank back into obscurity. Which really doesn’t mean it’s dead. People still make bad 80s style hair metal albums, and occasionally a britpop or grunge album. And in the same way, people still make shoegaze albums. This one, for example, is clearly nothing less than a fantastic shoegaze album and it was released this year. Asobi Seksu has been around for a little while on an indie label, and despite their clearly eastern name, the band is based in NYC. The eastern part most likely comes from the lead singer, a petite Japanese woman named Yuki Chikudate.

The band had another album, but I haven’t heard it yet. But the general concensus seems to be that this kicks the crap out of the debut. It’s not necessarilly typical shoegaze, but these guys know where their roots are and are not afraid to show their style and how it is both borrowed and homegrown into being something special, and wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Sophia Coppola movie soundtrack (speaking of which, I really have to see Marie Antoinette). It’s good night time music, and the band is constructed around the signature shoegaze wispy but abrasive guitars and driving beat. The drums are aggressive but friendly, and the sonic sheen is very skillfully made. It should be noted that at times, Asobi Seksu attains the shoegaze ideal of making guitars and keyboards and such not even sound like themselves anymore, but like an ethereal angelic layer of sonic cake. Other sound effects are well placed, such as bells and chimes at times.

Our princess from the land of the rising sun Yuki Chikudate is one of the main attractions of this band, and in many ways she is very talented. She plays keyboard for one thing, and I not only find it baffling how people can play keyboards in the first place but even more baffling that they can do it and sing at the same time, which Yuki does. They play live a lot, you know. And goddammit she has a great voice. Veluptuous and playful at times while painfully honest at others, and she can hit really high notes with pretty good success (save a few really high ones that her voice falters a little on). Her voice really makes a lot of the songs on this album special. Thursday, the albums decided high point and subject of a fantastic music video, is her knockout moment. Yuki actually speaks fluently in both English and Japanese, and she uses the dynamics of both languages in the music, sometimes singing in English and in Japanese at other times.

It’s hard to say how much ground this album covers. There are times where you may think that you have heard what songs have had to offer earlier on in the album to some extent, but really, all of the songs here are good, most great. The album is given a slightly misleading start with Strawberry. Great song, but really it’s much different than the colour and texture of the rest of the album. It’s more j-pop than anything else here, and it has a sort of floatyness like everything else but instead adopts a more lighthearted and strolling feel. Lions And Tigers is perhaps the albums most touching and lovely moment, and is still enveloped warmly by the sonic gale that is present everywhere else on the album. Even more charm is added when Yuki’s voice sometimes teeters on the edge of out-of-tune, but this can be a little aggravating for people very involved in theory, which fortunately isn’t me quite yet. Thursday is the pop gold and choice song of the entire album, and it has a tune that is nothing short of classic, and New Years is about as good relishing in a great abrasive anticipatory glory. But really, nothing can prepare the listener for Red Sea, the albums clear high point. The song starts off quiet and lush, and ends up bursting into one of the most epic and wonderfully beautiful (yet almost tragic in some kind of strange Slowdive-y way) shoegaze explosions ever. There is nothing else so sonically huge and exciting on the rest of the album. The highest notes Yuki misses are the songs only weak points. But this song proves that the band and the album are truly unique, and the tearing tsunami of gorgeous sound later in the song is extremely memorable and enjoyable, if not a bit trance enducing.

Great, great album. A true winner in indie rock, and also shoegaze rock. Of course this year older rock bands seem to reign supreme with their new releases, but this is a recent band delivering an album that is so fresh and wonderful that it can still be considered one of the years best. Like any shoegaze, you really need to crank this up to get the full feeling. If you don’t, the sound will be distant and difficult. If you do, it will be warm, sweet, and succulent. Stop the fruit train, because this fuckers jumping on, and it’s got a crowbar set and ready to beat some ass.