Tag Archives: Asobi Seksu

Interview: Asobi Seksu

A feature for The Skinny:

Asobi Seksu

Without knowing Asobi Seksu’s back-story you could make an informed guess. Perhaps they are a Japanese band inspired by hearing Kevin Shields’ distorted guitar soundtrack Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray’s prolonged cinematic flirtation in a Tokyo hotel?

No, ‘Asobi Seksu’ means ‘playful sex’, not ‘cross-generational platonic romance’. But it is Japanese, and one half of the band does hail from that part of the world, and they certainly do owe a debt to the My Bloody Valentine guitarist. To dispel that myth entirely though, Asobi Seksu are in fact one of countless buzz bands to have flown the Brooklyn indie nest in the past few years, and this month they release their third full album, Hush.

The duo of James Hanna and Yuki Chikudate caused a shallow but sustained ripple of hype with their 2006 LP Citrus, a record that combined Hanna’s tremolo-bending shoegaze guitar with Chikudate’s crystalline vocal style. In the time between the two albums they drafted a whole new set of backing musicians, but this new line-up wasn’t borne of any creative tension, according to Hanna: “Yuki and I made a decision that this band was going to be the two of us and that we would hire people to play live. We were always the songwriters so it seemed a natural decision. Coming out and saying we are the band has really clarified things in a positive way.”

A renewed clarity also happens to be the most noticeable change in the Asobi sound on Hush. Whereas Citrus relied on looming walls of feedback and murky clouds of noise, Hush is a much more accessible, focused record. “On Hush we set out to make something highly textured without relying on the same things that hopefully worked on Citrus,” Hanna says. “We knew we wanted something glassier and the layers to be a bit more transparent this time around. It took us a lot of trial and error to find textures that we found new and exciting that were also a bit more subtle and didn’t clog up every inch of audio space.”

But Hush could have turned out very differently had Hanna’s dream producer returned his call: “We tried to contact Brian Eno to work on Hush, though I think people thought I was joking when I said it. He’s obviously out of our range but I figured there was no harm in giving it a try. For the next record I think we are going to ask Phil Spector.”

That may be a joke on Hanna’s part, given Spector’s current predicament, but it’s also another clue to the kind of musical heritage Asobi Seksu revel in. Not merely introspective shoegazers, they also distil the symphonic pop pioneered by Spector on his 1960s recordings of The Ronettes and The Crystals.

The one element of their sound, however, that critics always latch on to is shoegaze. Does Hanna tire of this? “I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I obviously love a lot of the music from that era, it was a huge influence on the way I learned to play guitar and helped me to learn how to think texturally as well as linearly. On the other hand I think the comparisons are out of hand and I think there are a lot of misconceptions of what we are and what we are trying to do.”

Whatever wayward guesses are made about Asobi Seksu this time round, with its tight pop aesthetic, Hush will surely open their music up to a wider audience. Hanna, for his part, is ambivalent on that score: “Hopefully Hush represents us challenging ourselves to not just repeat the things that people seem to like about us. As far as our appeal goes, that remains to be seen. I really do hope people enjoy the record but past that I have no say in the matter.”

Asobi Seksu play ABC2, Glasgow on 14 Feb.

Hush is released on 16 Feb.

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In with the new: a hasty look at the most interesting albums of 2009

back in 2009So you’re sick of reading end-of-the-year polls are you? Me too. I’ve already exorcised that demon. With nowt else happening as the nation sinks into the collective food and drink binge known as Christmas, maybe it’s a good time to have a quick peek at what musical treats next year has in store…

Only a handful of release dates have been announced so far, so it’s impossible to preview the year as a whole, but what do we know about already?

In late January, if all goes to plan, Animal Collective will have critics all a-flutter over their new album Merriweather Post Pavillion. I wasn’t too keen on last album Strawberry Jam, but you can guarantee this will be nothing if not experimental. On the same day Andrew Bird releases his eleventh album, Noble Beast, which I’ve already heard a muso friend describe in glowing terms.

A week later and we have a big new album closer to home to get excited about. Franz Ferdinand return after three years with Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. You’ve probably heard one of the singles – Lucid Dreams or Ulysses – and it sounds like the stylish Glaswegians are aiming straight for the indie disco, if indie discos still exist in 2009. Also on this day The Strokes’ bassist Nikolai Fraiture releases his first album as Nickel Eye. I’ve already heard the promo: it’s alright.

Into February and Montreal’s latest buzz band Handsome Furs bring us their second album Face Control. It’s being put out by Sub Pop, which means it must be good. Fact. An early contender for album of the year also arrives in the form of Hush by Asobi Seksu. I’ve heard it already and it’s rather good – poppier than Citrus but as epic as ever.

Commercially, the big album of February will most probably be Lily Allen‘s follow-up to the six times platinum  Alright, Still. Called It’s Not Me, It’s You, expect more ‘witty’, ‘edgy’ lyrics from the mouthy LDNer.

In March The Decemberists return with The Hazards of Love. Can we expect more sea-shanties and literary singalongs from these Pitchfork favourites? Time will tell.

And that’s about the point where all firm dates for your diary dissolve and we are left with lots of TBA-style conjecture. But others virtually guaranteed to come up with new music in 2009 include these notables: The Strokes (they’re expected to return to the studio in February), Outkast, Rufus Wainwright, Sonic Youth, The Flaming Lips, The National, Morrisey, Matisyahu, U2 (yawn), The Fray (yawn), Kate Nash (yawn), Lionel Ritchie (yas!), Papa Roach (yawn), The Rifles (meh) Lady Sovereign (meh), The Feeling (YAWN!!!) and Kylie Minogue (yawn).

But all these pale into insignificance in comparison to what will surely be the album of the year: X Hits, the long-awaited greatest hits collection from failed reality TV show group Liberty X! Get in!

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February – A month in singles

Alice McLaughlin of Alice & the Majesty

Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong may have a ridiculous name, but they’ve already been tagged as a band on the rise in 2008. No surprise on the evidence of Lonely Buoy (***, 18 Feb), with its Bloc Party pace and Cribs-y guitars. [Although they fairly divide opinion, as Ally shows in his hilarious rant.] With the exception of their last single, Biffy Clyro have been going a bit American of late, and Who’s Got a Match? (***, 4 Feb) is another barn-torching Foos-scale rock-out. I’m roughly a decade too old to appreciate angst-laden pop-punk – or emo, as the Daily Mail shrieks. But You’re the Designers We’re the Deciders (**, 11 Feb) by Southampton’s Not Advised is more likeable than should be advised. The market in girl-boy, minimal garage rock has been thoroughly stitched up, but Blood Red Shoes pick at the seams regardless. You Bring Me Down (***, 4 Feb) lacks no raw emotion, and yet still feels strained by its instrumental limitations.

What to write of a song with the Disneyland refrain, “You are all beautiful/ And you are all magical”? Well I can’t return the compliment, because Beautiful (*, 4 Feb), by South Africans The Parlotones is just creepy, like the evil cartoon empire. Damn the NME! Because its summation of Letting Go (***, 25 Feb) by Preston band Team Waterpolo as “like Franz’s Take Me Out played to the tune of Mamma Mia” is spot-on, and I would have surely said the same if they hadn’t beaten me to it. This column praised The Coral‘s comeback single last year, but their latest ’60s whirl Put the Sun Back (**, 11 Feb) is just too lacklustre to shout about. You wait for one bunch of melodic Scousers and two come along at once. Britney’s Tears (***, 4 Feb) by The Steeples has exactly the right sound for mainstream indie: breezy, upbeat, endearing – unlike the disastrous pop wench of the title.

Proving that ska never dies (it just hibernates in the winter), The King Blues bring a premature burst of sunshine with Mr Music Man (***, 18 Feb). The live buzz suggests a chaotic, renegade spirit, so it’s a shame that this is, at best, reggae-lite. You cool cats might be turned off by Eoghan Colgan‘s debut single That First Time (***, 4 Feb), given its Lenor-conditioned softness and Coldplay guitar, but the industry is about to gobble this sweet-voiced ex-doctor up and hawk him out in massive pre-packaged globules. Asobi Seksu‘s Citrus was a standout album of 2007, and with Goodbye (****, 25 Feb), the New Yorkers give us a wee nudge of a reminder – gorgeous, Electrelane-meets-Mary Chain guitar pop. On a first listen to I Could Love You (****, 4 Feb) by former Edinburgh native Alice McLaughlin, aka Alice and the Majesty, the thing that strikes you is her voice: unique, expressive, world-weary. The pared-down alt-folk only adds to her allure – single of the month.

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