e already know what happens when you cross Kevin Shields with Japan—a couple of going-through-the-motions tracks for the Coppolatastic Lost In Translation. Which I believe was a film about the magnificent adventures of a twelve foot high arse. Or something like that. Oh yes, and cultural alienation. But what if Kevin Shields was a woman, spoke Japanese, and actually still released records? Well my friends, what truly magical times we would be living in then.
It’s not quite that simple, obviously. But anyone using delay pedals, shared male/female vocal parts and ... well ... noisy bits (towering walls of sound, sonic audioscapes, waves of texture—whatever) is going to set off the My Bloody Valentine alarm in that journalistic part of the brain which deals with handy comparison. It’s just left of the part which deals with being a morally-impaired scumbag, and it works like the batphone. Feature of music attributable to someone else at the pinnacle of a pre-existing genre? Woop woop woop!
Asobi Seksu, happily, have some slightly less conventional aspects which enable them to stand out from the soupy mass of disenfranchised kids eyeing up those sexy Boss effects. Yuki Chikudate’s bilingualism shines brightly through the creme de gaze, with a number of her measured performances being delivered in Japanese. As well as this being excellent news for the gormless types who hang around the internet obsessively debating just how unbelievably kawaii everything is, it also provides an intriguing contrast to the English deliveries. Whilst those lay open the lovelorn scars of romance in plain view, the tracks presented in an unfamiliar tongue retain an added element of mystery. You can take the hint with bouncy opener “I’m Happy But You Don’t Like Me”, but the semi-chanted “Asobi Masho” is rather more enigmatic. This guessing game, and even the simple charm of a different set of phonetics for a change, keeps the interest levels perky.
Occasional injections of pop magic also provide some pleasant surprises. “Umi De No Jisatsu” rushes out of its waspishly distorted beginning with infectious purpose and a mischievous agenda to get you bobbing around like some form of imbecile. Likewise the chirpy ‘doo doo de-doo doo’ ending emerging from “Taiyo.”
And when Asobi Seksu knuckle down to produce a classic piece of light/dark, quiet/loud, on/off shoegazing—it all comes together perfectly. “It’s Too Late” may never lay claim to the crown of originality in the land of spontaneous innovation (that’s a republic now anyway), but this plaintive lament, pierced only by the briefest of fretted wails before slowly igniting into a full-blown blazing electronic squall, is beautifully worked. “Before We Fall” follows much the same pattern, without ever quite escaping from its formulaic grasp.
In much the same way, although I’m sure they’d be desperate to avoid it, the band are inevitably left open to the aforementioned comparisons with similar artists—many of whom cast extremely lengthy shadows. The trick is not to worry—innovation is important, but it need not overwhelm. Asobi Seksu is comfortable enough to slip casually into the senses, yet fresh enough to warrant praise. Nothing lost in translation there.