While their earlier releases brimmed over with breathless, break-neck passion and relentlessly pulsating rhythms, New York quartet Asobi Seksu (“playful sex” in colloquial Japanese) have adopted a more leisurely pace and a more somber palette for their fourth full-length assemblage of sonic brushwork. It’s almost as if singer/keyboardist Yuki Chikudate, guitarist/vocalist James Hanna and company have decided to paint with a richer but darker blend of colors on Fluorescence, title and packaging notwithstanding.
Presentation-wise, after the black and white and grey all over art of their previous release Hush, it’s a return to the day-glow album art of their Citrus record, this time designed by legendary 4AD artist-in-residence Vaughn Oliver.
Despite the cover, the record deviates more than any of their others from their shimmering, warm and bright shoegaze roots, but it’s hard to imagine fans will be disappointed.
Listeners can still hear the beautiful soaring soprano vocals and a wall of sound built upon sprawling, tremolo-ified electric guitar, lush keyboards and rollicking rhythms.
Chikudate’s vocals have never been stronger, and she makes greater use of her lower range on this release where there was mainly bird-like chirps and hiccups. Here she belts out some sustained swoops and concrete lyrics to great effect, although helium intake is still occasionally suspected. First single “Trails” shows off her range to best effect, making a convincing argument that she stands head and shoulders above vocalists for Cocteau Twins and Bel Canto and should be crowned the Kate Bush of dream pop.
Their debt to shoegaze forefathers like My Bloody Valentine and Lush is still clear, and their place alongside the sonic miasma crafted by the likes of contemporaries Blonde Redhead and A Sunny Day In Glasgow is apparent.
But, Asobi Seksu provide a unique bridge from those artists to the Phil Spector-crafted pop confections of the 1960s like The Ronettes and The Crystals (the sound of which has recently experienced a renaissance itself with the likes of Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, Hollows and The Maybenauts). That natural bridge is clear on “My Baby,” (“My baby doesn’t love me anymore), but it’s a recurrent vein throughout Fluorescence and all their recorded works.
“Leave the Drummer Out There” reveals Asobi Seksu to have a sonic allegiance to Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House, but they differentiate themselves by picking up their pace to a gallop toward the end, and the vocals are in a much higher range (Chikudate is a soprano, Beach House’s Victoria Legrand a tenor).
After the brief instrumental “Weird Sleep,” Hanna takes a rare lead vocal on “Counterglow” and his echoey, dream-like tenor performs admirably, although it’s not as distinctive as his band mate, and the track vamps for a bit rather than be compelled by a strong hook.
“Trance,” which begins with a Japanese scat and machine gun tambourine, turns into the most straight-ahead rocker on Fluorescence, and its most linear fully fleshed out song, clocking in at just over two-and-a-half minutes, and it’s a welcome change of pace between the meditative and sprawling “Ocean” and slow building closer “Pink Light.”
There’s no question the spacey, dreamy pop of Asobi Seksu owes a debt to the shoegazery of the early ’90s, but they are not looking down or behind, they are looking up and ahead, at jet trails set on fire by the sunrise, and their vision has coalesced wonderfully on this lovely record, hopefully destined for many top ten of 2011 lists.
Asobi Seksu – Fluorescence Tracklisting:
- “Coming Up”
- “My Baby”
- “Perfectly Crystal”
- “In My Head”
- “Leave the Drummer Out There”
- “Deep Weird Sleep”
- “Trance Out”
- “Pink Light”