“Hush was written while we felt destroyed.”
Nothing said about Asobi Seksu’s third album Hush can better encapsulate the mood of the album than that quote by band member James Hanna. On their first two albums, New York’s Asobi Seksu delved into a shoegazer fantasy realm populated by bright, J-Pop characterizations, sounding oddly dense and giddy at the same time. While shoegazer isn’t necessarily a sound synonymous with excess energy or joyful excess, that’s more or less exactly what the band achieved with their outstanding sophomore effort, Citrus.
But since 2006, when that was released, something happened, or rather, numerous things. Touring drained the band’s energy and the group had slimmed from four members to two as they parted ways with their rhythm section. And as such, the resulting album is considerably more defeated and somber than their previous efforts. Hush is a dramatic album, lush and extravagant in its arrangements, but gone are the bubbling pop nuggets and bright, explosive rockers. Hush, as its title suggests, is a bit more muted in many ways, though what it lacks in heavy sheets of distortion it makes up for in shimmering, Cure-like arrangements.
Leadoff track “Layers” is the first indication of the shift Asobi Seksu has undergone, building from a Cocteau Twins-like ballad of chorus-laden guitar and gently tapped percussion. Yuki Chikudate’s vocals still soar, but not with the same sense of fun that they once did. Meanwhile, “Familiar Light” is a beautiful and elegant pop song, almost a cousin to Stars’ “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” with its climactic chorus and delicate waltz turned pop majesty. With “Sing Tomorrow’s Praise,” the group touches upon a more familiar sound but with a bit of a goth touch, which is a curious but most welcome development. “Transparence” is merely a glossy pop gem, while “In the Sky” is similar to 2006’s “Thursday,” though nowhere near as satisfyingly transcendent.
The biggest payoff on Hush comes on first single “Me & Mary,” tucked away at track eleven. It’s an upbeat and immediate track, the catchiest the band has written. This isn’t to belittle the rest of the album, however. While the shift in tone does take a little getting used to, Asobi Seksu has carved out an interesting new path. While those neon Tokyo tones have all but disappeared in favor of a gauzy Brit-post-punk haze, it’s a transition that suits them well. For their sake, however, I just hope they’re feeling a little less destroyed since this was created.
Video: Me & Mary
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.