With the recent release of their third studio album, Hush, the New York-based shoegaze duo Asobi Seksu (meaning “casual sex,” or “sex for fun” in Japanese), reenters the music scene with a sound divergent from their previous albums. Unfortunately, much of the “fun” is lost in the transition, leaving Hush soporific and thus pretty unmemorable.
The third album of a band is always a trial, especially if the first two were met with success, as was the case of Asobi Seksu. Should the same sound be continued? Can it be interesting without becoming repetitive? If not, the sound is to be carried into unchartered territory, a move that threatens to alienate previous fans as well as disastrously end in failure to successfully deliver the new vibe. On Hush, the heavy guitar effects and static noise is toned down in favor of a more whimsical atmosphere, owing to dreamy, mellow synthesizer and the ethereal tones of vocalist Yuki.
While this quieting transition works well in some songs, many others lack the band’s previous vivacity and rawness. Whether Hush can be considered an interpretation of the shoegaze genre or a venture into something entirely different, there is a distinction to be made between pleasantly mellow and sedative. Tracks like “Layers,” “Familiar Light” and “I Can’t See” are beyond underwhelming with their monotonous repetition of uninspired, sleepy melodies. A quarter of the album fails at both crafting pleasant soundscapes and matching it with an actual personality.
Mellow or not, shoegaze bands such as Asobi Seksu, who rely on a subdued sound atmosphere, must balance this with the distinguishing memorable quality needed to keep the tracks from blurring together into a mere compilation of noise. Hush largely errs on the side of subdued, rendering the majority of the tracks unremarkable, despite being decently composed. “Sing Tomorrow’s Praise,” “In the Sky” and “Blind Little Rain” show a balance of sound texture and smartly dynamic layers but fail to rise above being more than acceptable background music due to their inherent lack of any real groove. Roughly half the album falls into this second category — the sound is there, but without any life.
Fortunately, despite the overall melodic deficiency of Hush, there are a few tracks that manage to succeed on both fronts. The album’s first released single, “Me & Mary,” as well as “Meh no Mae,” maintain the album’s motif of toned-down noise effects while remaining distinct and lively. The even mellower “Transparence” and “Glacially” further prove the venture into a new sound is not entirely for naught, demonstrating the duo’s deft ability to manipulate sounds and melody in new ways. The album’s standout zenith is found in the eerie synth effects and haunting vocals of “Gliss,” which crafts a tense uneasiness that is beautiful in its gloom.
At its best Hush enjoys a modest success, and is pretty unfortunate at its worst. Despite several successful tracks, only “Gliss” lives up to the intensity and notability of previous songs like “Thursday,” “Goodbye,” “New Years” and even “I’m Happy But You Don’t Like Me.” While it is no doubt a relief to see the duo did not utterly crash and burn on their third release, the result is rather underwhelming and disappointing. At least Asobi Seksu have a low standard for improvement on their hopefully forthcoming next stab.
3 stars out of 5.