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Asobi Seksu – London ICA 19/2/09

 This is actually the best photo we have of the night. Soz for cretiny.

With their beautiful third LP, Hush, released just days before this show, Asobi Seksu have every reason to be confident. They excel tonight, delicately pacing the set and balancing it with spectral, detailed renditions of new material and thunderous assertion of older tunes. Of course, now that their sound has shifted from the pop glee of 2006’s Citrus to the icy, insular and captivating dalliances of their latest work, the live show has to deal with stylistic veerings in the most entertaining way possible. New songs are performed with reverence rather than nervousness – the staccato vocal scales in In The Sky see vocalist Yuki Chikudate’s eyes go skyward, and the lolloping, dreamy Blind Little Rain is a perfect rest before more violent material returns.

Unsurprisingly and despite the magnificence of the new songs, it’s the material from Citrus that entices warmth from the jam-packed black box of the ICA. Strawberries provides a clattering familiarity early on, the accelerated outro of which is now greeted like an old friend, and Thursday (the one off Skins where bowl-cut learns to write again) is an emotional exhaustion, as serene as it is pleasingly wrought. During the second verse of the same song, guitarist James Hanna allows himself a rare smile as he picks out the counter-melody.

Continually, Asobi Seksu prove themselves more than capable of achieving the blistering power of their recorded output in concert. The drumming is pleasantly domineering at times, the bass almost-stupidly fuzzed and, at the front, Hanna’s intuitive guitar provides subtle but unmissable, vital focus. They prove themselves occasional showboats in the rapturously received encore – Chikudate stumbling into the drummers’ stool to prove that her thwacks can be as malevolent as anyone’s, and certainly more charmingly childlike. Disappearing in an unsurprisingly thick cloud of feedback and moodiness, they exit, their live reputation in London bolstered immeasurably.

This review also appears here, at The Fly. See what PM thought of Hush here and here, and visit the band’s MySpace for a listen.

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Asobi Seksu – Hush

Asobi Seksu – Hush (One Little Indian)

Asobi Seksu - Hush

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.

Hush is out on Monday through One Little Indian – win! More here. See this review at The Quietus.

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Asobi Seksu – Shepherds Bush Empire 21/11/08

Asobi Seksu

In a support role for Ladytron, Asobi Seksu showed that, still, they have incredible power. It’s easy to forget that they are a potent live act, what with their seeming inability to settle on a distinct line-up, but they show in abundance this evening why they really should be considered so. With their amps and stands decked out with yellow and blue fairy lights, the stage resembles that of Pavement’s farewell tour, and is a suitably beautiful accompaniment to the band’s new and old material.

That new material features equally as much as old, but slots neatly in. It is markedly more dense in construction rather than delivery, and somehow thinner in approach. The result is less choruses, but even more intrigue. It’s difficult not to be drawn in by Yuki Chikudate’s involving Japanese words (though no-one understands them… why is that always the way with foreign-language lyrics?), but without the sheer sonic bravado of the music behind them they wouldn’t be half as charming. James Hanna and the assembled band (the bassist of which PM once had a dreadful awkward silence with, another tale for another day…) are thunderous throughout, with Hanna in particular showing deft skill on the guitar. The likes of Gliss and Me & Mary are this new, perplexing and evocative Asobi Seksu personified – rest safe in the knowledge that the new record delivers on this promise.

The old material, though, is the purest incarnation of the band tonight. That’s not to say that the new stuff is any way forced or difficult, just that established tunes can’t help but sound more welcome if they’re delivered so brilliantly as this. Strawberries and Thursday are the purest pummels, so minutely and crisply are they given. The key to the band’s digestible fury is that they are essentially popular melodies driven to their absolute volumatic levels – every ounce of power is pushed out through each and every note, with equal regard for beauty and violence. This is a key to great pop performance, and tonight’s lasting impression.

Visit the band at their MySpace.

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Asobi Seksu – Me & Mary

Asobi Seksu – Me & Mary (One Little Indian)

 Asobi Seksu

The first single from Asobi Seksu‘s third LP will do little to shake the wrong tendencies among the press to continually daub them with a shoegazer-revival brush, but to those with more than a minute to spare Me & Mary will shine as an example of very pure popular music. Because of the immense albatross around their necks, it seems unlikely that many will consider the band anything more than what is written about them, but there’s much to explore in this one song alone that might sway some.

The production is crisper and cleaner than anything from their previous Citrus LP, James Hanna’s guitar is even slushier and more overdriven, and Yuki Chikudate’s vocals remain just as sweet as they ever were. In truth, the musical aspects of Me & Mary are more aligned with twee conventions than shoegaze, but the plums of the music world can’t seem to see it. It moves faster, melody is the ultimate core, and the structure of it wouldn’t look out of place on Meet The Beatles. Though shoegaze gets heavy, it doesn’t get as ferocious as Hanna’s blistering sonic energy or as tuneful as the wistful verses. It’s consummate pop writing, but with the visceral nature of something much more primal.

Me & Mary is released on November 17th. Listen to the band at their MySpace.

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