album reviews

Asobi Seksu
Polyvinyl (2009)

Soft As Snow: Asobi Seksu, 'Hush'

A lineup rotation certainly has taken its toll on Asobi Seksu, and the band's latest, "Hush" (Polyvinyl), is almost a whisper compared to the denseness of 2006's "Citrus."

At its core, the group has always been singer/keyboardist Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna – they've used a different rhythm section on each of their three albums – but this lineup in particular seems miles away from the group who wore its love for My Bloody Valentine on its sleeve just a few years ago.

With "Hush", Asobi Seksu more closely resembles the dream-pop of the Cocteau Twins than the shoegaze of MBV or Slowdive.

Lead single "Me & Mary" comes closest to re-creating the sonic assault of earlier albums – particularly with its climactic ending of drums that escalate into a cascade of distortion. But the rest of the song is light as a feather (ironically, the music video also involves windblown feathers), with Chikudate's breathy lyrics laced with a tinge of emo ("loved so much that I can't survive") and her coo of the song's title sounding more like a trailing-off "me and my ..." than a forceful statement.

These songs are pleasant enough, but the memory of "Citrus" is hard to shake: over almost every track hangs the unrealized anticipation of a fuller guitar tone. The sparser instrumentation makes the thinness of Chikudate's voice more apparent: she sounds really small on "Gliss" without layers of sound beneath her, and her transitional keyboard melodies squeak out like warbles.

Even still, there are a few moments of brilliance here: the shimmering "Sunshower" starts out as straightforward pop song but rises from its traditional, tapering ending with a two-minute long chilling coda that pairs Chikudate's soaring sighs of "whooooaaaa-oooh" with crescendoing instrumentation. Like My Bloody Valentine's most compelling moments, Asobi Seksu's music works best when you can't quite tell what Chikudate is singing – her voice blends into the instruments on the reverb-soaked "Mehnomae," and the result is a captivatingly wistful airiness.

Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis

» Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE; March 28, 9:30 p.m., $12; 202-388-7625.
» Download MP3s by Asobi Seksu here, here and here.

.: Originally published: 17 February 2009.
.: Re-published: express, a Publication of The Washington Post: 17 February 2009, Page 22.
.: Hush on