Asobi Seksu – Hush (One Little Indian)
With their last LP, Citrus, Asobi Seksu threatened the mainstream with an incorrect shoegaze revival. In layman’s terms, critics heard reverberating guitars liberally augmented with feedback, and octave-spaced boy/girl vocals and then jumped to the nearest conclusion. This has continued to be an albatross around their neck, and one that looks to be staying with them for the attention they’ll receive for Hush. For reasons too lengthy and uninteresting to explain fully here, this is quite an unfounded equivocation – Asobi Seksu’s sound is one based primarily on pop convention, fleshed out with excellent sound construction and ear for the necessary nagging tweak.
Furthermore, the band’s seeming inability to stick with one line-up for more than a matter of months (events are dictated by central duo Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna) has made the gestation of Hush an unavoidably turbulent time – with thrilling results. There’s less guitar, or at least with less volume, and there’s a reliance (one that always existed, but never more urgently) on the power of tension. Build-ups are longer, climaxes are more artfully restrained and the overall dynamism of the band seems to be in sharper focus. But there are distinctly fewer choruses. It seems that what the band have sacrificed in what The Sun probably termed “spectral heartbreak”, they appear to have gained in intrigue and deftness of gesture. The only real hangover from previous albums, conceptually and sonically at least, is (unsurprisingly) the single Me & Mary which makes the very most of Hanna’s tight and noisy guitars, but is continually underpinned with dementedly fidgety drums. Even this, the poppiest moment, is seriously breached, improved by a clear new lust for challenge.
From the outset, though, Hush oozes these more considered approaches to craft. Layers is a mostly indecipherable vocal sequenza, almost, with gentle harmonising and space to breathe. It’s something new for the band, certainly, an idea extended and drawn to an extremely natural conclusion, a mood construction similar to Super Falling Star from Stereolab’s Peng! record. Glacially contains moments of bliss, and consummate progression towards a climax that is, wisely but frustratingly, never granted. The sixths build in the bass and keyboard in a manner suggestive of impending explosion but we’re just not given it. Would it have been easier to give the listener that satisfaction? Inarguably. But to deny the undeniable, to laugh in the face of your expectant audience takes guts.
At points the record is reminiscent of the bobbing rock of Citrus, but there are crucial changes. On occasions where Asobi Seksu may have previously unfussily bashed on through to the pop meat, they now chow in an exclusively evolutionary fashion. The acceleration on In The Sky is unexpected, beautifully executed and would undoubtedly have been jettisoned as an idea on their last record. Thought processes are changing here, and a band suddenly feeling liberated in a creative sense are battling at their limits – as stated above, this is a thrilling sound. With every blood step they take, the band are managing to sound even more like themselves, if that’s not too silly a thing to say. Maybe they’re growing into their most intriguing work, maybe this is a diversion before they return with more material that fuels s*****z* rumours. Either way, Hush is their most dense, confusing and brilliant record yet, one that will hopefully define them in a new, ebullient and inventive way.