By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
When Asobi Seksu released its self-titled debut in 2004, the New York City band (whose name means "casual sex" in Japanese) was on the cusp of the Britpop-influenced shoegaze resurgence. But while tinges of that echo-laden, effects-driven aesthetic have found their way into the mainstream over the past half-decade, the band has largely remained an underground ambassador of that sound.
Still, Asobi Seksu has progressed and evolved over the course of three albums without straying too far from its core strengths: vocalist/keyboardist Yuki Chikudate's swooning falsetto melodies and James Hanna's otherworldly guitar-scapes. The pair first joined forces in the early '00s after becoming disillusioned with their classical studies at the Manhattan School of Music — and it's not too much of a stretch to think that a similar dislike of rehashing sonic templates and traditional constructs also marks his year's Hush.
Recorded in a few months (as opposed to the frantic pace of the sessions for 2006's Citrus), the album is mostly about establishing an overall, slow-building mood. By relying on one or two tastefully crafted parts for impact — and abandoning the dense layers of guitar noise found on past songs such as "New Years" and "Red Sea" — Chikudate's trance-inducing vocals shine through like never before.
In fact, despite plenty of shimmering guitar effects, layers of floating synths and lofting percussion flourishes, the album could be considered a somewhat minimalist effort — at least when compared with Citrus' juxtaposition of manic noise-pop and blasts of reverb. If Citrus is a band playing to a packed, sweaty crowd of Brooklyn youth, Hush is more like the house band from a David Lynch movie: It exists in a slightly out-of-focus daze that perfectly enhances the eerie, melancholy state of emotion in the room.
The RFT recently spoke with Chikudate while the band was in the midst of its current U.S. tour.
Shae Moseley: The new album is quite a departure from your earlier work. It's a little less sugary. What was the process that led you in this seemingly unlikely direction?
Yuki Chikudate: We had some of those songs while we were touring [for Citrus], and we never really had the chance to work them out because we were always traveling. But when we finally finished the last European run, we were just relieved to finally be able to move on. James was kind of getting sick of doing the same old things with his guitar because we did the sugary-pop, layered-guitars thing. That's not to say that we'll never do that again, but with this new album we just wanted to move on. We toured with Citrus for more than two years and we had had enough.
But there's definitely been a revival of shoegaze music. Do you think part of it was a conscious reaction to there being so many people recycling that sound right now?
No. Actually we were kind of kicking ourselves and saying, "What? Now that reverb is so popular we decide to abandon that sound? What the fuck were we thinking?" No, but I mean we had to do what we had to do, and we have no regrets about that. But of course that's the way it always seems to work.
So Hush was mostly a collaboration between you and James, right?
Yes. Well even with Citrus it was mostly just James and I. It just makes it easier to be more definitive about a sound and the less people in the studio, the easier it is to be honest. Things go a lot faster. So it was really relaxing to have it be just me, James and Chris [Zane, producer] and we ended up having a lot of fun.
Did you write a lot of Hush in the studio? How was the process different from your previous albums?
It was different in the sense that we had three months to do Hush and only two weeks to do Citrus, so I think that influenced the sound. We weren't so rushed. We definitely had all of the songs written before we went in or else we would probably still be there now. But I think that because we had a little more breathing room, we ended up noodling a little bit more. It was painstaking at times, especially for James, to try to figure out what he wanted those guitars to sound like. We weren't going to layer like 500 guitars, so instead we would often agonize for hours over getting the one right part.
Making yourself limit your options can be challenging.
Yeah, we tried to show a little more restraint this time around. It was really important that we made a record that has breathing room.
From a critical standpoint, you've always done well, but mainstream popularity has been somewhat elusive. Are you satisfied with you level of popularity with the public at large?
We're not trying to write songs to be popular, but I guess it would be nice to get a little bit of that. And I wouldn't call that selling out. It's more like just making a living, you know? But we're definitely grateful for where we are and what we're able to do. I know that it's not easy to be able to get this kind of opportunity. We always try to keep in mind why we do this in the first place, and that always keeps us in a good place.
Why do you do it?
Well, you know, we just have to make noise, I guess.