Review : Asobi Seksu - Fluorescence
PitchforkDespite being tagged as "shoegaze," Asobi Seksu can sound positively airborne. Yuki Chikudate's diction renders her lyrics opaque while still gushing emotion, and with the whorl of James Hanna's heavily processed guitar, they conjure an almost synesthetic merger of sound and color. Unfortunately, the band found itself grounded after 2006 breakthrough Citrus, relying on hermetic, lacquered production and reworked acoustic versions of their back catalog to wring beauty out of their latest offerings, Hush and Rewolf. On Fluorescence, they're still fumbling with how to reconcile their studio-rat present with the rock band peaks of their past.
If the cover art and title strike you as some kind of prefab 4AD starter kit, it's for good reason. While Hush took its name as some sort of mission statement, Fluorescence attempts to conjure a specific slice of the 90s where the cushy textures of post-MBV shoegaze were cut across with a forthright, feminized vocal presence and production slick and stylized enough for alternative radio. From the first seconds of "Coming Up", Fluorescence announces itself as more vigorous than its predecessors and ready to recapture their prior rush, despite sawtoothed keyboards and traded vocal hooks that are relative experiments for Asobi Seksu.
Elsewhere, the squint-inducing brightness sheds too much exposure on Chikudate's chirpy vocals-- still an acquired taste to those who don't gravitate toward J-pop. On "Counterglow", one of the tracks that rely more on subliminal drone than pulverizing sonics, Hanna's flattened moan is more effective. Clear standout "Perfectly Crystal" is a richer rendering of the kind of climactic moments that, on Citrus, were occasionally subjected to brittle recording. In terms of sequencing, Fluorescence plays out something like the inverse of Hush-- an uninspired valley in the record's middle spoils whatever momentum the bookends achieve. "Perfectly Crystal" feels particularly marooned, surrounded on one end by "In My Head" and "Deep Weird Sleep"-- near-interludes that ride out wobbly, traipsing organ riffs to no real payoff-- and on the other by "Leave the Drummer Out There" and "My Baby", attempts at multifaceted suites that meander aimlessly....full text
SlantmagazineAsobi Seksu continues their Cranberries-flavored dream-pop voyage with their fifth album, Fluorescence, and perhaps even more so than on the synth-drenched Hush, the band is largely on a self-indulgent journey. Far more scatterbrained than any of the band's previous work, Fluorescence seems to exist largely as a palette for lead vocalist Yuki Chikudate's starry-eyed fascination with lyrical whimsy and barely defined melodies. The results are ever-gorgeous but somewhat of a self-coddling, art-for-art's-sake trap: Whereas something like the acoustic Rewolf found Chikudate and bandmate James Hanna perfecting gentle lushness, Fluorescence finds the two trying their hand at stream-of-consciousness shoegaze, but their endeavors at nuanced key changes, unpredictability, and segmented song structures more often than not come across as cloying, clunky randomness.
The problem is that Asobi Seksu's musical strengths play to the exact opposite effect, seducing listeners into a graceful coma with strong melodic predictability and sweeping repetition. As whimsical and capricious as Chikudate's vocals can often be, the band's music has stayed disciplined and true, mining the best ideas of dreamy '90s art rock into a benign but gorgeous brand of palatial indie. On Fluorescence, Asobi Seksu offers wildly different textures and atmosphere, and as the rich, sky-gazing focus falls from its central perch, so too does the band's heart. In attempting to lend their sound some spontaneity, Asobi Seksu has robbed it of its sentimental charm. "Trails," for example, is fuzzy and splashy and spotlights an appropriately wistful vocal by Chikudate, but it's also strangely wooden, failing to strike the playful notes of "Lions and Tigers" or the inspirational resilience of "Sing Tomorrow's Praise."
The closest the band comes to capturing the luxurious, guilty-pleasure spaciness of their previous work is "Pink Light," a droning, beguiling diversion constructed from shuffling percussion and thick synth-n'-guitar layering. For one four-minute stretch, Chikudate and Hanna achieve the subtle, mercurial song structure they've been reaching for on every track, gliding from the hauntingly hazy into the naked and sparse (and back again) with ease. Unfortunately, the musical bliss is short-lived, and the rest of Fluorescence is pretty much the musical equivalent of throwing darts at a wall full of sticky notes while blindfolded and drunk: Some happy accidents, but mostly a forgettable, sloppy mess....full text
SoundsxpChris Zane's (The Walkmen, Passion Pit, Tokyo Police Club, etc) bold and busy production of New York's premier dreampop duo Asobi Seksu's fourth album is a possible turning point for the pair. No longer tipping a half nod to the Cocteau Twins, Yuki Chikudate's lush whooping vocals are very much pushed to the fore here, with the percussion upped in pace and the rhythms beefed up. So while in the lovely Sighs, there's at least one track that deserves a much wider audience, some long term fans may miss the more soporific dreamscapes of old, where it cam complete with a slightly fuzzy coating and Chikudate's ethereal voice would spookily float somewhere above it all. So while it's still a million miles better than most bog standard indie landfill, it sadly lacks the sensuous tingle that they once delivered....full text
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