Asobi Seksu (2006), Indie Rock

Matty Wise gives another hella long review, this time on New York-based indie rock band Asobi Seksu.

Now I’ve never been a big fan of female musicians. This is probably because for the first twenty years of my life I fostered misogynistic notions; for example, that all women are inferior to men. In everything. Singing was no exception, except for that one brief period when I was in love with TLC. Because of such silly notions, I rarely listened to female singers. Even today, as hopefully my sensibilities have changed, I still have only a small number of bands with women that I like. New Pornographers, Jem, Bjork, Sleater-Kinney, Frou Frou, and Arcade Fire, if you count the screeching lady. The same amount as a six fingered hand. I know, the list is pathetic, and I’m working on making it bigger. But that is why, given my history, you should understand how serious this is when I say Asobi Seksu’s Citrus is unfrigginbelievably amazing. It also helps that I’m in love with the lead singer’s voice (Yuki, if you ever read this, I’m 23, single, live with my mom). How good is this album? So good that right after work, my hair still soaked in chlorinated water, I rolled down my windows in below freezing weather and blasted it, as how all good albums should be listened to. And I swear because of rolling down the windows (or the immense cold) the music left an aftertaste in my ears adding a whole ‘nother level of awesomeness.

But I’ll stop being abstract. Asobi Seksu, roughly meaning Playful Sex in Japanese, debuted with their self titled album in 2004. The band is comprised of four members: Yuki Chikudate – keyboard/vocals, James Hanna – guitar/vocals, Haji – bass, and Mitch Spivak – drum. Yuki and James split the songwriting. Citrus is their second full length album, released May 30th, 2006, under the label Friendly Fire. When reading descriptions of Asobi Seksu, comparisons to My Bloody Valentine seem to be inevitable. But after listening to Citrus I realized that to compare it to Loveless, MBV’s best album, would be unfair. First off, Loveless is so brilliant that all you have to do is move your volume control up or down for the songs to evoke different emotions. More importantly, though, Citrus is too good and too original on its own for it to be hindered by comparisons.

While there are similarities in sound between Asobi Seksu and MBV, I would assume it’s because they are of the same “shoegazer rock” (yes, I never heard of the genre before either, and I’m the reviewer…). The guitar’s distorted, the vocals are often used as another instrument instead of being the centerpiece, and there’s a lot of noise, a lot of friggin’ noise bombarding you repeatedly. By that description, it might sound like Asobi Seksu is one loud, harsh sounding group, and they are, kinda. But they are also incredibly beautiful (and if you know me, that’s not normally in my vocabulary). Part of this is because of Yuki’s vocals. In the first few songs, Strawberries, New Years, and Thursday you hear her rich what-I’m-assuming-is-a-natural-alto voice carrying through even as the cymbals crash on your head, as layers of guitars screech and ripple at your ears. All during this time, the notes you expect Yuki to hit never happen, but you should be more than satisfied with the ones she chooses. Then comes Springs, the first song to test her upper registry. Her voice comes off as fragile, at times even flat, and that’s what makes her voice so special to me. Even when the notes sound grossly flat like in Red Sea, they are in fact just the right notes. Asobi Seksu’s music is an oxymoron of my music sensibilities.

It’s not just Yuki’s voice though. Hanna’s guitar creates the noise at all the right times. At first a song like Strawberries will start off with a nice guitar trill, and then add a flat swerve, then a loud feedback noise, revert back to nice guitar trills, and then slam you with crazy distortions. Yet the progression through the song is perfect. And that is how a lot of the songs are. Rightly timed effects from the synthesizer like tinkling chimes or long spacey sweeps make it even better; during Nefi and Girly I could close my eyes and feel like I was flying (a bad idea when driving). Haji and Spivak add great noise in their respective instruments as well. There are no bad songs, and perhaps the most plain would be the slow Exotic Animal Paradise, but even that song progresses nicely. The only song that really surprised me by its cleanliness was the very last song, Mizu Asobi, which sounded more than anything like Japanese pop ending with an emphatic, happy guitar strum which, though great, better not be the direction they’re going. My one rap would be that at times when Hanna sings his voice goes flat which doesn’t work like Yuki’s.

The lyrics, written in both English and Japanese, when sung, are at times understandable and other times not, can be melancholic like Thursday’s (one of my favorite songs of the album) English “the autumn wind feels / as if it were you / and swayed through the fields / where I once held you”, and even deep and abstract where I’m not even sure what they mean but am moved by it like Strawberries translated Japanese “like a red sky / the plants stretch on / when you’re in the strawberry fields / listen you can hear it: / with loud voices they are calling / ‘don’t forget me’ they scream”. But while lyrics are usually very important to me, they are much more of an afterthought in this album. You see, what I think makes a great album is when the music can be a metaphor for my life, my state of mind. Like no matter how discordant, loud, wracking, unbelievably fucked up things might get, there is always something, maybe a subtle twang of the guitar or Yuki’s echoing voice, that pierces through and makes all that noise beautiful (cue maudlin violin).

matty wise