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. This can make approach difficult.
But we have Asobi Seksu, a band that has been widely admired for investigating the middle ground, where melodies inform but don’t overwhelm those certain My Bloody Valentine tendencies. But the group’s also perpetuating a kind of trickery, because they’re from New York City, though their embrace of Japanese iconography and, of course, Yuki Chikudate’s half-English, half-Japanese lyrics could have you fooled. In their music, too, the illusion of shoegaze has covered—increasingly on Citrus and, now, Hush—some moments of blatant, gorgeous, pop.
This has always been presented in a more straightforward manner on Asobi Seksu’s studio albums than in the live setting, where their heavy, relentless sound has blown listeners away. You can’t fault the group for highlighting the floating/soaring quality of Chikudate’s best melodies, but for those with the experience of them in concert, the effect can seem oddly restrained. For these listeners, Hush doesn’t so much buck Citrus’ trend as extend it.
But things nevertheless seamlessly coalesce here. Asobi Seksu have reached that point where their manipulation of a song’s basic building blocks has come to feel natural and confident. A mark of it—the album’s first single, the gorgeous “Me and Mary”—comes right at the end of the album. The confidence is a reward for consistently engaging songwriting, though. Like the best pop music, it’s bright and upbeat and tantalizingly familiar. “Familiar Light” is like this—but it’s covered in that great Asobi Seksu scrawl, and a martial drum figure emphasizes this group’s on-mission. “Sunshower” is like this—but its burying of the vocals in among the instrumentation makes you dig for hidden meaning (something about a private moment of in-love, “We can laugh our heads off when no-one understands”). “In the Sky” is like this—its buzzy counter melody and big guitar strums gradually coming together into a signature wall of sound coda.
Best of all, a couple of times playfully remind us they’ve still got what it takes to revel in the textural density of the wall of sound. Best example is “Mehnomae”, a space-filled song with big ‘80s drums. The song’s in Japanese, but when the chorus hits and the song’s complex polyphony reaches climax, that hardly matters. In previous songs, like Citrus’ addictive and sweet “Thursday”, the band didn’t so much sidestep familiar chords/progressions/instruments as lay them out with humility and a childlike wonder in the sounds they could create. But with Hush the band has moved forward to a more complete exposition of their place in the indie music pantheon. And they still manage to keep hold of that peculiar childlike quality that lends their music its particular transcendence.
“We can fix ourselves in time”, Chickudate almost pleads on “In the Sky”. Listening to this, you’ll want to. To hold onto your moments with this remarkable group. To cherish your time with them. It’s simple—Asobi Seksu are hitting their stride.
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