Friday, January 30, 2009

Asobi Seksu - Hush

Music / Review

Album: Hush
Artist: Asobi Seksu
Year: 2009

Shoegaze never died, but it is a bit less often that one hears a truly convincing record of the genre. Which is probably why I embraced 2006'sCitrus, the second album by indie rockers Asobi Seksu, and why I'm also partial to this new album,Hush, which sees the same template improved upon, and in service of a better set of songs. None stronger than opener "Layers," with its slow-burn build and shimmery keyboards, which make it sound positively astral; a fitting theme given a later track named "In The Sky." There's also just something about Japanese vocalist Yuki Chikudate's breathy voice, which sits comfortably in the blissed-out fog of the mix, that evokes twilight, or night time. But whereasCitrus, with its Orange artwork and playful compositions, had the appeal of a fall season dusk,Hush, whose album cover is a ghostly white, with the faint silhouette of animals visible through a haze of snow (?), strikes me as Asobi Seksu's winter record (call it a shoegaze version of Bjork's gorgeousVespertine). Couple that with the album's release date and I think I have a pretty convincing argument, no? As such, the songs are appropriately chilly, sometimes to their detriment (the Sci-Fi wooziness of "Gliss" is a bit of a turn off), but more often than not enforcing the agreeably frigid vibe. Take closer "Blind Little Rain," for example, which waltzes along through a thick atmosphere of reverb and echoey sighs, making for Asobi Seksu's most lilting lullaby of a song to date, with glacial, patient pacing that's been heretofore all but absent from Asobi Seksu's playbook. Ironically, later track "Glacially" is anything but, with its abrasive guitar riffs and steady percussion. Then there's album centerpiece "Transparence," which begins with a few seconds of shimmering synths, evoking falling snow, and then gleefully becomes the album's most explosive rocker (with furious percussion that recalls the best track onCitrus, "Goodbye"). This may seem familiar, and just as the band still favors short album titles,Hushdoesn't represent much of a departure fromCitrussonically, but it does (at least to these ears) seem like an improvement. The sound is more defined (and by that I mean less defined, since this is shoegaze), and the structure of the album is more noticeable-- especially when one considers "Risky And Pretty," less-than a minute of ambient synths (first in the mode of the former, then the latter) which effectively acts as a segue from side A to B. This second half houses some of the album's biggest moments, including the Japanese-language "Meh No Mae," which is eventually swallowed whole by its ever-present wall-of-sound, as well as "Me & Mary," the album's first single, which boasts titanic low-end distortion drowning out its make-shift chorus. I could take or leave "I Can't See," unimpressively sung by the other member of the group, James Hanna, and backed by U2-esque squeals, but the great majority ofHushis tight, fun, and worthy of the shoegaze mantle.

Grade: 3/4

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