Posts Tagged ‘citrus’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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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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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.