Release Date: Feb 17, 2009
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Even though Asobi Seksu is a highly unlikely Japanese name (it means ‘casual sex’, after all) early reviews of this New York band’s work seemed to exclusively begin with a biographical paragraph emphasising the fact that this is not a Japanese solo artist. Having established a reputation as one of the premier nu-gaze acts with 2006’s Citrus, however, such formalities are probably no longer required. Indeed, thanks to a couple of high profile appearances on the popular TV series Skins (which, for better or worse, made the Gossip a household name in the UK) the intimidating group of teenagers skulking around outside my flat probably know more about Asobi Seksu (no pun intended) than I do.
Review Summary: Fans of the shoegazer elements heard on Citrus may be disappointed with Asobi Seksu's new direction, but Hush is a worthwhile album all the same.No matter what the final product may have been, the moment Asobi Seksu began writing the follow up to the highly praised Citrus it became inevitable that there would be some sort of fan backlash. And this shouldn't surprise anybody; there are innumerable examples of bands or artists who have, for better or for worse, changed their sound only to be bombarded with criticism on the unveiling of new material. The reverb heavy shoegaze heard on Citrus won over many a fan back in 2006, and for very good reason.
Maybe noise-pop, in its latest, crashing-towards-the-mainstream iteration, is to shoegaze as pop-punk is to true punk. The former, adding gloss to essentially pop-music structures; the latter, a denser, less accessible version in which the medium is >half the appeal of itself. Shoegaze, given over as it has been to subtleties of timbre within overpowering distortion, is, after all, about finding beauty in abstraction.
"Dream pop" is a term that gets slapped on any act that incorporates ambient elements or lets instruments obscure the vocals. I can understand the urge to label some music thus, especially where it applies to Asobi Seksu. It's been called dream pop because it is pleasant and airy, like a good dream. But if we consider the bands who first inspired the term, we're reminded that all dreams aren't necessarily good ones.
Sometime during the touring cycle that followed the release of their 2006 record Citrus, Asobi Seksu's guitar player and the architect of their impressively layered neo-shoegaze sound, James Hanna, told his partner in the band, singer Yuki Chikudate, that he was sick of guitars and wanted to do something different. Fast forward to their 2008 release Hush and the band, now down to a duo, has dismantled the wall of guitars and gone in a new direction. Where once there were layered guitars, buried vocals, and tons of loud effects, now there are icy synths, precise arrangements, and upfront vocals.
Perfectly lovely and forgettable Asobi Seksu’s melodies, time signatures and stylistic evolution tend to move slowly—even as things around them zip by. Since 2006 sophomore release Citrus, the band has again dropped its rhythm section and landed on a new label. But little has changed musically, aside from the subtraction of a few layers of guitar texture and the addition of some bubbly twee-pop dynamics.