It's 2009 and this is Hush, the third album from dream pop outfit Asobi Seksu. Adored for their melodic hooks and eclectic influences. Hush is a somewhat dramatic turn for them, their earlier records being way more loud and experimental; Hush in comparison, is more pop-focused and twee in influence.
Asobi Seksu were formed in 2001 from the ashes of a band called Sportfuck. They released a self titled LP to somewhat indifference by the industry and followed it up with 2006's Citrus considered by many to be their magnum opus. A mastery of shoegaze. How could they top it? They wouldn't attempt it.
Instead, we get Hush a more concise and pop-sensible record with catchy tunes and less in terms of noise pop.
It begins with 'Layers' a jangly single with a simple hook the repeating lyric: "Under layers..." The key to Asobi Seksu's success is the gorgeous vocals of lead singer Yuki Chikudate whose unique Japanese style help cast Asobi Seksu in a light that no other group can really fall into.
The second track, 'Familiar Light' announces itself instantly as a drum-centered track with a heavy and catchy beat that carries itself really well.
'Sing Tomorrow's Praise' is kind of boring to me, it kind of takes the 'let's be pop-sensible' idea a bit far and kind of comes off as really snooze-inducing.
'Gliss' is the 4th track and another winner here. It reminds me a lot of the early Utada Hikaru tracks I loved a lot when I first found them. Very pretty and very plainly Japanese in style. There's something really unique about Asian pop music and that is evident with the clear fascination with it.
'Transparence' is the "hit single" of the album, and rightly so, it's really catchy and fun. This is the one you put on the love songs mixtape. Asobi Seksu's very own "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" if you get the meaning. A+ here.
'Risky and Pretty' is a short transitional piece that goes into In the Sky which is a beautiful art piece with a Dirty Projectors-esque beat that breaks into what is probably the best instrumental on the entire record.
'Meh No Mae' kicks off Side B with a clang and entirely Japanese lyrics that you can't understand, but somehow portray their message pretty well. The atmosphere this track creates is serious, but somehow manages to put quite a smile on your face.
'Glacially' is a captivating song with a really neat riff that definitely carries it through the weaker moments. This one reminds me a lot of some of the heavier Belle and Sebastian tracks. Definitely some Broken Social Scene in there too, a lot of those Arts&Crafts bands sound like this track. Probably my favorite track on the album.
Track 10, 'I Can't See', suffers from some of the same problems as 'Sing Tomorrow's Praise' and its inclusion is puzzling. It comes off as a bad rip-off track of Lush or Cocteau Twins, or some other dream pop band from a decade earlier. It is a rather embarrassing moment.
'Me and Mary' makes up for that. It was the first single released from the album and definitely sounds like the song that they spent the most time on. It comes off as precise but as if each note was very carefully placed. It sounds like the essence of the Citrus-era Asobi Seksu sound remains here but with the J-pop Hush sound intact. Most importantly: it's catchy and just fun to listen to.
We end Hush with 'Blind Little Rain'. It's hard to enjoy this song after 'Me and Mary' and the placement of the two tracks next to each other, was probably not a good one. 'Me and Mary' displays the group at their best, energetic and wild, but with the pop-sensibility of the record in mind. 'Blind Little Rain' is just kind of boring, and falls into the same pattern as some of the aforementioned "dull" tracks, too laconic and repetitive.
Overall Hush definitely does not top Citrus, but it's by no means a bad album and has enough bright moments to make it worth multiple listens.