Asobi Seksu – Hush (Polyvinyl)

Three years after slaying everyone with their excellent sophomore album, Citrus, Asobi Seksu are back with a new rhythm section, a new label (Polyvinyl), and a new album, called Hush. However, the same band that once captured my heart with powerful songs like “Sooner”, “Strawberries”, and “Walk On The Moon” (which could have been their “Maps”) now sounds lost and uninspired. Asobi Seksu just isn’t the same band anymore, since they’ve replaced a great rhythm section with a less impressive duo who aren’t even mentioned by name in the press materials – leading one to believe that the band is just a vehicle for singer Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna.  If that’s how they want to operate it’s fine by me, but they’re suffering without compelling foundations for the singer and guitarist to work over. After four listens I’m still waiting for something to stand out – a melody, a lyric, a chorus, a guitar tone – but all I hear is merely pleasant background noise that doesn’t live up to the band’s track record. The first major disappointment of 2009.

Asobi Seksu – Citrus (Friendly Fire)

It’s always exciting when a band you like becomes a band you love, and with their sophomore album, Citrus, Asobi Seksu have made this transformation. Their debut had a few sublime shoegaze-pop moments (“Sooner” and “Walk On The Moon”), but you had to shuffle through some filler to find them. On Citrus they’ve done away with the filler, and come up with an entire album of songs as jaw-dropping as their debut’s best moments. There are two major differences this time out: firstly, they seem to have spent some time listening to post-rock (I’m guessing Sigur Ros), which pays in the form of some truly awesome drum pounding by Bryan Greene, gigantic guitar sounds from James Hanna, and interludes of melodic feedback found in “New Years”, “Pink Cloud Tracing Paper” (which Hanna sings) and “Red Sea”. Secondly, lead singer Yuki’s vocals are placed lower in the mix. It’s not that she’s a bad singer who needs to have her voice buried, but lowering her singing in the mix gives the vocals a really cool timeless feel, regardless of whether she’s singing in English or Japanese, or both, as heard on “Strings”. With an album this strong, people are going to have to start paying attention to Asobi Seksu soon. If they don’t, they’re really missing out. The best album of 2006.