[16 June 2009]
Pulling off an acoustic record is no small feat, no matter what kind of rock music you trade in. But it is indeed a legitimate challenge to pull off an acoustic record when you’re a band that made its name by flaunting overt affection for reverb and pedals. Doing an acoustic record when you’re a shoegaze band is a bit like getting naked with the lights on. Without the easy cocoon of echo and distortion, will the songs hold up? Are the melodies and hooks any good, without the gossamer shell of effects?
As it happens, Asobi Seksu don’t have anything to be afraid of, with the lights on or stripped down. Their acoustic effort is a success, with the band delivering a serene collection of interpretations that translate surprisingly well from their busier original versions into their most elemental parts. The album includes songs from all three of the band’s studio records, plus a cover of Hope Sandoval’s “Suzanne”, and it’s a rare treat to hear each one played in such a different manner from its original form.
The album’s most successful tracks are both taken from 2006’s Citrus. While the original rendition of “New Years” pops with drone outbursts and quick drums wrapped in a velvet mess of distortion, the song’s sweet melodies really shine through the simpler lens of xylophones, quiet guitars, and bright vocals. Likewise, the calm rhythm of the acoustic “Thursday” retains every bit of the song’s lilting loveliness, despite the absence of dense production.
In short, the album’s stripped-down instrumentation highlights the band’s innately strong songwriting ability. But the real star of the record is Yuki Chikudate’s voice. Unfettered by the veils of reverb and distortion that sometimes obscure her singing, it turns out that she has an unexpectedly powerful voice with equal depth and range. Whether or not you’re a veteran appreciator of Asobi Seksu’s regularly scheduled gazey offerings, this record stands as a testament to both the band’s accomplished writing style and its creativity of spirit.