Raise your hand if you caught Asobi Seksu the first go round. Meaning you own and/or enjoy a copy of their self-titled debut from 2002, the date of its original release. There’s a few of you. Are you lying? Is there a reason you didn’t tell the rest of us? Were we too busy drooling over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? Or were you simply plotting a giant “I told you so” in your little tent constructed from homemade sheets and towels commemorating the 10th anniversary of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless? Well, your big day is here. Friendly Fire is re-releasing the debut, there’s an East Coast tour in the works, and a video is set to hit M2 any second now. Are you happy now?
Here’s a little introduction for the rest of us: Asobi Seksu (Japanese for “play sex”) (Scream!) is a NYC foursome founded in 2002 by guitarist James Hanna, drummer Keith Hopkin, and singer/keyboardist Yuki. Somewhere along the line they added a bass player named Glenn Waldman and released a record that nobody heard. Since that time every single band in New York blew the fuck up, and now, two years later and still radiating from the fallout, their album is finally going to see the light of day. The New York press has made subsequent comparisons to Lush, Stereolab, Blondie, and Sonic Youth, but the real dead ringer here is, as you may have guessed, My Bloody Valentine. Check out the second track, “Sooner”, if you don’t believe me. Sure, Yuki’s vocals are little sweeter than Bilinda Butcher’s, and the keyboard melody is bursting with new wave nostalgia, but once you run into that melting wall of tremolo, you know that these guys have been reading Kevin Shields’s rulebook. Don’t get me wrong, the song is contextual and flattering, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the credit due.
That being said, I think Asobi Seksu is abolutely dynamite. A track like “I’m Happy But You Don’t Like Me” is a perfect respite from the ice cold wind that’s been blowing out of New York lately (I blame Interpol’s hairspray consumption, but that’s another story). More upbeat than “Sooner”, the song boasts a similar mix of new-wave keyboards, huge guitars, and playful vocals. The single, “Walk on the Moon”, is another highlight. The guitars trade in their wail for a quiet shimmer and Yuki just tears your heart out in strained, breathy English. Guitarist James Hanna ably steps in on vocals for “Let Them Wait” and “End at the Beginning.” His human, but never disinterested, mumble provides a smoky contrast to Yuki’s Technicolor theatrics. To be fair, there are some lulls on the album, longer numbers like “It’s Too Late” and “Stay” move a little too slowly and little too predictably from quiet melancholy to soaring bombast, but these tracks are more than made up for by an upbeat rocker like “Umi De No Jisatsu” or the fine twee pop of “Taiyo.” In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Asobi Seksu deserves to breakout as much as any of New York’s recent darlings. They’ve dispensed with the by-the-numbers posturing that’s eating away at the soul of the New York music scene. Instead they’ve created an exciting and often touching reminder of why music compels us to create monuments to our heroes.