I've always wondered why it is that Christmas music is only played at Christmas. No one questions when you hear "Boys of Summer" or "Cruel Summer" played in the dead of winter; why is it that the idea of playing "Winter Wonderland" in July is anathema? Perhaps I'll experiment in a few months with Asobi Sexsu's Hush, for while their third album is not Christmas-themed, it does have a wintry sound which, as I listen to it in the middle of February, seems just perfect for the winter season.
Asobi Seksu (Japanese for "Casual Sex") is known for their shoegazey sound, but on Hush they evolve like the changing seasons into a dreamier, poppier sound, still on the mellow end of the spectrum but with more appeal to a wider audience. Songs are layered like fresh snowfall, guitarist James Hanna laying down the powder and vocalist Yuki Chikudate skating around the surface with her peppermint swirl vocals, mostly in English, sometimes in Japanese, and mostly indecipherable in either case. Hush is about mood, and that mood seems to be a sort of muted cheerfulness, sunshine hidden behind a snowstorm, foggy, blurry, blustery and relatively opaque, like the silhouetted cartoon animal crackers on the album cover.
Album opener "Layers" evokes gently falling snow as it sets the wintry tone of what's to come with rich churchy organ, jangly sleigh bells and seraphic wisps of lyrics that drift above it all. "Sing Tomorrow's Praise" is somewhat bouncier and poppier, "whispered words" nearly swallowed in a wash of snow white sounds that falls somewhere between the early '80s and 20 years in the future. "Gliss" and "Transparence" also seem to lurk somewhere in the world of science-fiction, the former a future filled with dizzy theremin and ethereal babydoll vocals, the latter a blast into the past, opening with a dance of starry keys before (ironically) becoming one of the album's weightiest, percussion-heavy pieces, occasionally dipping a toe back into the Milky Way on the way.
In days of old the album would have been divided into two literal sides, but here the "record flip" is managed by the 45 second instrumental "Risky and Pretty," which immediately segues into "In The Sky," which is almost more Lush than Hush at times. "Mehnomae" starts with a stuttering reverb and heavy percussion that quickly drifts into a heavy wash of sonic snowfall. Later, the ironic "Glacially" moves along at a steady clip, dragged forward with a great guitar hook and pleasant harmonies, and "I Can't See" changes things up by letting Hanna take the reins on vocals before leading into the album's first single, "Me and Mary," a relative rocker that's the poppiest song of the bunch. Most interesting however is "Blind Little Rain," an unexpected waltz through a sudden thaw, still chilly and full of fuzz, but warm enough to suggest that despite every storm cloud there's a reason to dance in the puddles, or skate on the ice, as the case may be.
Favorite Track: "Blind Little Rain"
Michael Fiegel is a freelance writer and graphic designer. His diverse
background includes journalism, radio copywriting, technical writing,
game design and music reviewing. He is best known as the creator of the
Internet cult sensation, Ninja Burger and the Hellas: Worlds of Sun & Stone RPG. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his website, www.aeforge.com.