Album Review: Asobi Seksu – Fluorescence

You can’t judge a book by its cover, right? Perhaps the tired idiom is true for books, but what about albums? If the latest release from Brooklyn dream pop leaders Asobi Seksu is any indication, then perhaps you can. Using both striking, relevant cover art and a decidedly literal album title is close to becoming an Asobi Seksu tradition: 2006’s Citrus delivered the bittersweet melodies awash in a sea of fuzz inferred by its title and is-she-frowning-or-smiling, upside-down orange-tinted cover, and 2009’s Hush stripped away the shoegaze in favor of an icy cool crystal clarity.  So then does Fluorescence emit a neon glow from the absorbed 4AD-era dream pop implied by Vaughan Oliver’s artwork?

Fluorescence opens amid a disorienting sea of noise on opener “Coming Up”. The thunderous rhythms, glistening synth lines, fuzzed-out guitars, and Yuki Chikudate’s unmistakable vocals are here, yet there’s something unmistakably different about the sum of the signature parts. It’s chaotic regardless of the noise level.

Chaos reigns supreme on Fluorescence’s catchy lead single “Trails”. Irresistible hooks and a groove more reminiscent of early post-punk than shoegaze give Loveless-era a pop makeover, as Chikudate’s voice switches back and forth between vulnerably delicate and forcefully soaring. “My Baby” and “Perfectly Crystal” shift away from much of the feedback in favor of an immaculate synth pop sound flavored with the sweetness of ’60s girl groups.

The centerpiece and obvious standout track of Fluorescence is “Leave the Drummer Out There”. For nearly seven breathtaking minutes, Larry Gorman’s intense militaristic beat holds together three divergent sections as “Drummer” rises and falls to expose Asobi Seksu’s experimental side and hints at the many styles and structures in their arsenal. Fluorescence returns to form on the most likely candidate for the next single, “Sighs”, with its shimmering synths and swirling guitars glowing especially bright.

Guitarist James Hanna takes over lead vocals while Chikudate faintly coos in the background of “Counterglow”. Dreamy and reverbed, but with an electronic beat, “Counterglow” evokes shoegaze emotions without the sound itself. Giving Fluorescence a last-minute burst of energy before closing with the somber “Pink Light” is the raucous rocker “Trance Out”, which recalls “I’m Happy but You Don’t Like Me” from their self-titled debut: short, sweet and catchy, but with a glam twist.

As promised, Fluorescence features a return of the loud, reverbed guitars, although probably not in the way some of Hush’s most adamant detractors have hoped. Fluorescence is nostalgic, but not retro, and contemporary without being trendy. There is a delicate balance between these ideals, and on Fluorescence, Asobi Seksu has found it. Likewise, Fluorescence represents equilibrium between the noise and energy of the first two albums and the dreamier soundscapes of Hush, while simultaneously refining the sound to the point where it is something distinctly Asobi Seksu’s. More than merely going strong after four studio albums and two live releases, Asobi Seksu is better than ever.


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