by Ziggy Merritt
Based in New York City, Asobi Seksu was one of the many bands to adopt the format of jangle or dream pop in the years since its heyday in the late ’80s and early ’90s, all while still preserving their own sense of self. Their seminal release, Citrus came out in a time where indie music as a whole was on the cusp of breaking through and melding inextricably with the mainstream yet had not quite reached the widespread recognition it enjoys today. Barring the then nascent platforms of Pandora and Youtube, it was harder to discover music outside of the narrow keyhole of Top 40 radio, which has since become an anachronism from bygone days. Now the proliferation of social media has removed much of the gatekeeping that prevented deserving acts from breaking through and finding their own legs to stand on outside of an iPod commercial.
Asobi Seksu often felt like one of the few acts lucky enough to buck industry conventions of the time and carry some level of success alongside a sizable but appreciative fanbase. Part of this was undoubtedly aided by the decidedly wise changeover from their previous name, Sportfuck. In the band’s twelve year lifespan, vocalist Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna remained the only consistent members out of a constantly shifting roster of musicians. Whether this had any effect on their indefinite hiatus is unknown, yet with Citrus the lineup of the time, including bassist Haji and Bryan Greene on drums, appeared to have found some level of harmony.
As was consistent throughout their previous albums, much of Asobi Seksu’s sound on Citrus derives from early ’90s shoegaze acts such as Sigur Ròs and Slowdive, the latter of which was notably able to coax the band out from their hiatus for a brief one-off show two years ago in 2014. That same lineage of sound linking together jangly guitar rhythms with a filtered and hazy production is punctuated here by Chikudate’s seamless transitions from English to Japanese between the tracks. Where this could have easily be written off as a gimmick, Yuki finds a way to make this a natural if crucial element to the album’s success and prior acclaim in the album’s two clear standouts.
One of those standouts, “New Years” is among those sung almost entirely in Japanese. In bridging this gap in translation, Hanna’s guitar is filtered through layers of echoey production complimenting Yuki’s upbeat tone and vocal stylings. The direction here shifts away from the album’s darker shades of malaise so indicative of shoegaze. There’s a near catchiness to the track that shines through in the bridge as the instrumentation falls away to lay the vocals bare and unfiltered before a wall of noise rock once again ensues.
“Thursday”, perhaps the most immediately recognizable from Asobi Seksu’s catalog, is more subdued in its approach, switching back to English to wax both poetic and nostalgic as the lyrics ingratiate themselves in loss and longing: “The autumn wind feels/As if it were you/And swayed through the fields/Where I once held you.” Hanna’s backing vocals give voice to the absent character painted in detail by Yuki as layers of intertwining electronic textures give depth and complexity to the arrangement. In its creation, “Thursday” has a brand of uniqueness that only Asobi Seksu can lay claim to, making it one of the undersung indie anthems that’s only all too satisfying to uncover a decade after its release.
Much of the prior and successive material released by the consistent duo takes the label of pleasantly derivative, not quite matching the success or innovation that their forebears and fans and Slowdive can lay claim to, but a definite stepping off point for bands to follow, namely acts like Beach House and DIIV. In a way it’s almost a shame that their time to shine happened when it did as it was only a few years after Citrus that the landscape of indie had already begun a paradigm shift away from the underground.