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Music Reviews

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Fat Possum
Asobi Seksu
Asobi Seksu
Friendly Fire Records

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Asobi Seksu are from New York, and it's only taken them one album to accomplish what every other rock and roll band in their city is struggling to achieve: they have seamlessly assimilated a platter of obvious influences into a credible and cohesive set of genuinely human pop songs.

Though they've only been a band for two years, Asobi Seksu demonstrate a veteran understanding of both how to get precisely the sounds they want out of their instruments as well as how to assemble those sounds into a memorable gestalt. They're also only a couple of steps away from transcending their influences and growing into their very own beast; as of now, their art is covered in the thumbprints of a number of seminal artists, so please forgive me for all of the comparisons I'm about to draw and the names I'm about to drop.

The first thing you'll notice about Asobi Seksu is that they can shoegaze like few other bands today can. As the title of "Sooner" implies, they're picking up right where Loveless left off, with torrents of blissed-out jangle and cyclones of breathy vocals flying at you every which way, and when they aim for it, they approximate Kevin Shields' guitar tone with alarming accuracy. This isn't simply a sprawling Brit-pop revival, though, as they also mines from a few other worthy genres and bands. "It's Too Late" is pure Stereolab, replete with loungy rhythms and fey foreign female vocals, though vocalist Yuki Chikudate coos in Japanese rather than French.

On the album's punchier numbers, Chikudate plays Kim Gordon to her bandmates' Dirty-esque grime pop, soaring over the chunky, fuzzed-out melodies and dissonant guitar noodling with equal measures of grace and muscle. The Sonic Youth connection strengthens when guitarist James Hanna grabs the mic -- not only can he pound out hummable noise like Thurston Moore, but he can sing like him too. Oddly enough, though, Hanna's songs are the album's least Sonic Youth-y; they're actually some of the band's most confident, buoyant mid-tempo rockers, swirling and building like radio-friendly, 99th Dream-era Swervedriver.

If Asobi Seksu just did a jam-up job of replicating a bunch of other bands, you would have seen a 6.5 instead of an 8.5 at the top of this review, and you could just go on listening to those other bands instead and not miss out on a whole lot. But they do more than just churn out derivative pop, and you will indeed miss out if you ignore this record, because the standout songs are easily the most exquisitely crafted pieces to come out of the Big Apple since Interpol released a similarly astonishing debut.

Asobi Seksu's ballads are where it's at, my friend, and these are the tracks that prove that these guys and gal are more than just good note-takers. "Walk on the Moon" is an obvious pick, an MTV2-ready slow rocker in which Chikudate asserts herself as a truly captivating musical personality. She absolutely nails the song's ringing chorus, belting out wrenching lyrics ("Let them all walk away/ I'll be left with the shame") while maintaining her composure and ultimately triumphing over her shame to deliver a sublime, aching melody. A definite A+.

"It's Too Late" is another glorious stab at Bends-y melodic rock conventions, but in this instance, the emphasis is less on Chikudate's voice and more on Hanna's spiraling guitar work. The song follows a relatively typical slow build/epic final release pattern, but what a fucking epic final release!

Where most bands would be content to just stamp down on the flange and delay pedals and let loose with their best Edge impersonation, Hanna takes the road less traveled, plunging into the deepest reaches of his musical psyche to find the most simultaneously distorted and beautiful noises that he can while drummer Keith Hopkin wraps the heavenly freak out tightly in a dense shroud of cymbals and toms. Hanna ups the noise-making ante even more on "Stay" -- after tracing Chikudate's hushed singing with his own to create an Adam and Eve intimacy, he closes his mouth and launches into a mid-song six string swoon, with feedback and reverb swarming about like a cloud of mating honey bees. This is why you owe it to yourself to lend Asobi Seksu your ear. This is why you like pop music in the first place.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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