September 21, 2006

Shoegazing, Redefined

Print More

Although technically, Asobi Seksu falls into the shoegaze genre, their newest album Citrus distinguishes them from other shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins; with this album, Asobi Seksu may force us to reconsider dismissing their music as typical shoegaze. Shoegaze is music without a distinct lead guitar and is usually characterized by two or more distorted guitars weaving together to form an nebulous, unstructured sound; it is sometimes called “music to do drugs to.” Although I don’t doubt it would be fun to do drugs and listen to Citrus, I can’t imagine that it would be as fun as just simply dancing my pants off to it.
Although at times, Yuki’s vocals are a bit constrained and seem a little forcedly airy and vague, the rest of Asobi Seksu (Japanese slang for playful sex) backs her up with strong beats and beautiful harmonies. The album begins with a slightly unnecessary, extremely short instrumental track; the most important part of the track is the title: “Everything is On.” Everything is on indeed, and the album quickly moves on to two songs that are electronica at its best. “Strawberries’, the track that immediately follows “Everything is On” showcases Yuki’s vocal range and Asobi’s shoegaze potential; the melodies are so soaring, the song renders doing drugs unnecessary — just listening to “Strawberries” makes you high. The pace of the album continues to quicken with “New Years” which will remind you why you love the combination of electronica and female vocalists.
Citrus does get a bit heavy at times. At times Asobi blatantly references, if not directly imitates the Velvet Underground — and I liked it better when The Velvet Underground did it. However, it is easy to forgive Asobi their Velvet Underground trespasses. The middle of the album is the most typically shoegazing, and the track “Red Sea” is the culmination of the wall of guitars and high-flying harmonies that are typical to that kind of music, and by its end I had just about had it. Luckily, Asobi Seksu switches it up by following “Red Sea” with a joyful, peppy song that’s either about being a lesbian or is written by a boy, sung by a girl. Either way it’s one of the best songs on the album.
Citrus is almost exactly half in English and half in Japanese. Since the lyrics are pretty difficult to catch in most of the songs, it doesn’t feel as if anything is missing, if you can’t understand Japanese. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if Yuki was singing in English or Japanese, but it didn’t at all affect my listening experience. I don’t mean that as a critique of Asobi’s lyrics (although they are mostly trite and disposable) but as a commendation of their musicality. The strength of this album lies in the composition and the sound; Citrus is beautifully constructed and altogether elegant.
With Citrus Asobi Seksu carves out their own niche in the shoegaze genre. Shoegaze will always be fun to listen to while high on any sort of drug, but the shoegaze of Asobi Seksu would probably be more fun to listen to while (surprise!) having playful sex.