Keeping it local ain’t what it used to be. Given that the cream of New York’s local bands were ceremoniously catapulted to the national limelight in the past few years after the post-Strokes frenzy, finding a gem in the rough can be hard. And I’m not talking about Brooklyn’s noise scene, or the dime-a-dozen bands gracing the dozens of D-list venues around town. And then the shoegazey, Japanese-influenced foursome called Asobi Seksu stepped up, filling the shoes of the strong local act that hadn’t been swiped up by the major leagues or blogged to death.
Asobi Seksu’s admirable self-titled debut in 2004 had the feel of a band in its larval stage with the potential to reinstate the shoegaze genre, picking up where Kevin Shields left off years ago (oddly, it was around this time that Shields reemerged to drone up the soundtrack for Lost in Translation, a movie about Americans in Japan). And what was hinted at all over the debut has been actualized with its follow-up, Citrus: Asobi Seksu is primed for the limelight, and the members have one of the year’s best guitar-rock albums to back themselves up.
Whereas the debut focused in more on singer Yuki’s English and Japanese vocals, her keyboard swoons, and occasionally James Hannah’s crushing guitars, Citrus‘s larger statement is about the grandness of guitar and exactly what Hannah is capable of, given the right budget and production. This is by all accounts his record, with Yuki’s swirling keyboards and swooning vocals coming in as a precise contrast and complement. Given the members’ proclivity toward shoegaze’s wall of guitars, the record could have been a rehash of Loveless-era tone and structure. Instead, Hannah occasionally steps out of shoegaze, and has many effects up his sleeve – most of which are admirably executed. The opening jangles on “Strawberries,” the full-on assault of “Exotic Animal Paradise” and the shimmering hiss on the album’s seven-plus-minute centerpiece, “Red Sea,” all form a distinctively diverse palate.
Though Hannah provides the record’s backbone, the band’s, ahem, selling point comes on strong. Yes, Yuki’s vocals have been pushed back in places, but her presence is the key to Asobi’s distinction. When slipping into Japanese vocals, she conveys lush warmth that contrasts the chaos of Hannah’s guitar onslaughts, and her vocals have been brought to new heights by the band’s latest producer, Chris Zane (Les Savy Fav, Calla). Additionally, Citrus sees the introduction of a new rhythm section that complements the central keyboard/guitar structure suitably. Citrus is a major step in the right direction for Asobi Seksu.