Release Date: Feb 15, 2011
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Shoegaze
You may wonder if this is in fact Asobi Seksu during your first listen to Fluorescence. Pounding drums and unexpected dance-friendly, heavy synthesizers welcome listeners to the new record. Quickly enough, however, singer Yuki Chikudate’s familiar, shrill and almost haunting vocals set in and you know you’re good to go with the New York City-based duo’s liveliest (and best) record to date.
Asobi Seksu are back at the dream-pop races, but this time they've brought something a bit less contemplative. Fluorescence, the fourth full LP from the group is upbeat, energetic, fast-paced — and catchy beyond repair. Asobi Seksu clearly picked up on ripples in the indie world’s tide, moving not in resistance but in conjunction with some dominant musical shifts.
Despite being tagged as "shoegaze," Asobi Seksu can sound positively airborne. Yuki Chikudate's diction renders her lyrics opaque while still gushing emotion, and with the whorl of James Hanna's heavily processed guitar, they conjure an almost synesthetic merger of sound and color. Unfortunately, the band found itself grounded after 2006 breakthrough Citrus, relying on hermetic, lacquered production and reworked acoustic versions of their back catalog to wring beauty out of their latest offerings, Hush and Rewolf.
The cover art may resemble a Cocteau Twins record thanks to the handiwork of Vaughan Oliver, who designed a good share of the 4AD catalog, but for Fluorescence, Asobi Seksu take another step away from their shoegaze influences. On their fifth album (fourth if you skip the prior album of acoustic reworkings), the wall of distortion is minimized and Yuki Chikudate's vocals are pushed to the forefront to be left wavering in the wind. Her voice previously sounded sweet and gentle when buried in guitar swirl -- particularly on Citrus and the excellent self-titled debut.
Before we dive into what Asobi Seksu is doing now, let's review a little. Their 2005 eponymous debut was energetic but boilerplate shoegaze, but just a year later on Citrus, the band broke their sound wide open. More melodic than before, with subtle rippling depth, it left the My Bloody Valentine grind behind and built their own buzzing, gauzy layers.
Asobi Seksu continues their Cranberries-flavored dream-pop voyage with their fifth album, Fluorescence, and perhaps even more so than on the synth-drenched Hush, the band is largely on a self-indulgent journey. Far more scatterbrained than any of the band’s previous work, Fluorescence seems to exist largely as a palette for lead vocalist Yuki Chikudate’s starry-eyed fascination with lyrical whimsy and barely defined melodies. The results are ever-gorgeous but somewhat of a self-coddling, art-for-art’s-sake trap: Whereas something like the acoustic Rewolf found Chikudate and bandmate James Hanna perfecting gentle lushness, Fluorescence finds the two trying their hand at stream-of-consciousness shoegaze, but their endeavors at nuanced key changes, unpredictability, and segmented song structures more often than not come across as cloying, clunky randomness.
You don’t have to examine Fluorescence too closely to find the traces of Ride and My Bloody Valentine that listeners have come to anticipate from Asobi Seksu. But in spite of the heavy patina of reverb undergirding songs like “Trails” and “Perfectly Crystal,” the descriptor “shoegaze” no longer seems to rest so comfortably upon this New York quartet, nor does its close cousin “dream pop. ” Both signifiers imply a certain wispiness, a gaseous, otherworldly quality that this set simply doesn’t have the patience for.