pretty vocals and dreamy feel
most I couldn't understand a word, but pretty

Grade - 1.2

released Feb 15th, 2011

from the album - Counterglow - 1.5

from all music


Bearing a hyper-stylized and glitzy graphic design sense, a pretty and petite Japanese female singer who sings alternately in Japanese and English, and a band name with a hint of nod-and-a-wink naughtiness (it's claimed to be a Tokyo-based slang term that means "playful sex"), Asobi Seksu come across like the latest Japanese import, the newest in a long line of ironic Shibuya-kei indie pop artists following Puffy AmiYumi, Cibo Matto, and Pizzicato Five. In fact, the quartet is based out of New York City, and besides the heavy Japanese pop influences, Asobi Seksu bear comparison both to the British shoegazer bands of the early '90s (My Bloody Valentine in particular) and to New York guitar noise acts ranging from Sonic Youth to Yo La Tengo.

Singer and keyboardist Yuki Chikudate, guitarist James Hanna, bassist Glenn Waldman, and drummer Keith Hopkin formed Asobi Seksu in late 2001, self-releasing their self-titled debut album the following year. Garnering a strong local buzz at a time when the New York club scene was hot again following the success of the Strokes and Interpol, Asobi Seksu came to the attention of the indie Friendly Fire Records, which reissued Asobi Seksu with new cover art in 2004. The album's single, "I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me," raised the band's college radio and online profile; that song and two others from the album, "Sooner" and "Walk on the Moon," were placed in the indie film In Between Days, which won a special jury prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Before recording their second album, Asobi Seksu underwent a major personnel shift, with the core duo of Chikudate and Hanna replacing Waldman and Hopkins with new bassist Haji and drummer Mitch Spivak. Produced by hot New York indie producer/engineer Chris Zane (Human Television, Ambulance LTD, etc.), the more polished, multi-layered Citrus was released to solid reviews in May 2006. At some point near the end of the nearly two years spent touring behind the album, Hanna had a revelation that led him to rethink the sound of the band, namely that he was sick and tired of the guitar sound the band had utilized up to then. For the next album, the band (then down to the core duo of Chikudate and Hanna) stripped back the layers of guitar noise and aimed for a more atmospheric and lush sound. Hush was released by new label Polyvinyl in February of 2009, and Chikudate and Hanna continued in this cleaner direction for 2011’s Fluorescence.

Album Review

The cover art may resemble a Cocteau Twins record thanks to the handiwork of Vaughan Oliver, who designed a good share of the 4AD catalog, but for Fluorescence, Asobi Seksu take another step away from their shoegaze influences. On their fifth album (fourth if you skip the prior album of acoustic reworkings), the wall of distortion is minimized and Yuki Chikudate's vocals are pushed to the forefront to be left wavering in the wind. Her voice previously sounded sweet and gentle when buried in guitar swirl -- particularly on Citrus and the excellent self-titled debut. Up close and personal, it can be dodgy, especially when she aims at shrill high notes and skates around them. This style of singing, matched with the softer, glossier, ‘90s-sounding production of Chris Zane (Tokyo Police Club, the Walkmen), makes the material more in tune with the Cranberries than My Bloody Valentine. Fans of the early dream pop stuff may have difficulties accepting a cleaner, more synthesized pop approach. At the same time, the shimmering, slow-motion beat of “Counterglow” might pull in some new crossover fans, and James Hanna's guitar layering on “Trails” is a nice nod to their heavier past.

Track Listing

1 Coming Up Chikudate, Hanna 4:06
2 Trails Chikudate, Hanna 4:01
3 My Baby Chikudate, Hanna 3:40
4 Perfectly Crystal Chikudate, Hanna 3:52
5 In My Head Chikudate, Hanna 2:59
6 Leave the Drummer Out There Chikudate, Hanna 6:45
7 Sighs Chikudate, Hanna 3:53
8 Deep Weird Sleep Chikudate, Hanna 2:01
9 Counterglow Chikudate, Hanna 4:12
10 Ocean Chikudate, Hanna 4:12
11 Trance Out Chikudate, Hanna 2:46
12 Pink Light Chikudate, Hanna 4:29