CD Review: Asobi Seksu “Fluorescence”

Whoever claims it’s best to shrug off the past and peer solely at the road ahead is a mendacious son of a bitch. All we do is look back. Entire lives unroll in the amber glow of reminiscence in order to abscond the dreaded manacles awaiting us upon the snap of our stupor. Hell, we probably even manipulate the fabric of these good ol’ days more than we’d like to admit, shifting a strand here and there to repel spirit-dampening pocks of truth and exalt the luster of langsyne.

It’s been quite a rocky ride for Asobi Seksu since the release of its breakout full-length Citrus in 2006. It wasn’t a flawless sophomore LP, but the guys and gal were evidently getting somewhere by bundling the small-fish, cosmopolitan flavor of indie-pop in shoegaze’s fractured brume. Follow-up Hush aimed to polish the outfit’s craft, slimming its veils of noise and presenting deliberate, cascading entries rearing heads that could regrettably moonlight as tails. The bite had been squandered. More vitally, the fields trodden had shriveled to a sour stuffiness. The album feels cloistered, these serpentine numbers closing in on themselves rather than gamboling across a glittering vista to flout omnipresent tethers to, well, everything a gaggle of wet-behind-the-ears kids would want to flout.

Then there’s the the iffy all-acoustic effort Rewolf. No need to delve any further than to state that elfin lead singer Yuki Chikudate was forced to carry far too ponderous a load. Besides, it appears to serve as a palate-cleanser instead of the next step in a gradual stylistic progression.

The Brooklyn act’s fifth studio album Fluorescence occupies the role of proper successor, and it sees every door the band had ever laid hands on obliterated, as Asobi Seksu resumes its dizzying journey with opener ‘Coming Up’, introducing the loping percussion heard on Hush alongside rambunctious synths, a staggered vocal delivery, and the guitar muscle many had long been clamoring for. It’s a fairly even blend of the band’s previous albums, though with a slight dash of additional panache in tow to power through the clutter.

The welding of discrepant selves isn’t as flush on the following few tracks. ‘Trails’ and ‘My Baby’ travel in opposite directions yet radiate a common hue of confusion, fuzz lilting, lifting, and loitering while the troupe tumbles from noisy to nonchalant gears or vice versa. The brusque shifts aren’t disorienting so much as disappointing, forsaking an electric build for quick payoffs that continually leave a fair deal to be desired. The nimble sprints emerging now and again are just colorless, old-hat bursts of vitality leading nowhere in particular. Flying down the block at identical paces and locations as you once did no longer summons that great, indomitable hope. The moment’s passed. The sands of time haven’t halted their passage for our convenience.

When Asobi Seksu does position itself in the here and now, the material produced is fairly engaging, and this is the case for the album’s bottom half — this outing is glaringly separated into two factions. ‘Counterglow’ hands the vocal lead to an echo-drenched James Hanna who croons atop an eldritch beat departing from the dream pop and shoegaze rubrics without forsaking their radiance. It’s an odd, incredibly satisfying number, immersed in a lustrous aquatic dimension akin to a pseudo-downtempo City Center. ‘Trance Out’ is another choice cut, commencing with an annoyingly familiar melody — ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’, maybe? — and then coupling this honeyed gleam with Afrirampo’s infectious zeal to generate a head of steam unrivaled on this record. One last hurrah, an incandescent ode to youth in the face of forces who could have sworn they’d confiscated it.

‘Ocean’ and closer ‘Pink Light’ for their part are weightless albeit drawn-out explorations, with Yuki’s pipes afforded galaxies of elbowroom as, carried by a snug and slender breeze, they waft through an effulgent mist without the faintest care to string them down to earth. This is still about vaulting her instrument to the heavens, but it doesn’t need to boulder through fuzz anymore. By way of a wait-and-see outlook, the outfit is rejuvenated, gradually blazing its own thoroughfare with newfound poise, taking the bumps, bruises, and boons as they come.

Meanwhile, six-minute centerpiece ‘Leave The Drummer Out There’ may most aptly capture Fluorescence‘s splintered visage, airy, feathery, and downright gorgeous from the outset only to transfigure into a sluggish meandering instrumental, then a weird cosmic slow jam that’s a tad hollow, and finally the drums pound the pavement vigorously — a torrid march portentous of a bigger and better finale. It never arrives, we’re left hanging. The song’s merely four shreds in one, each hinting at faraway pastures and vanishing into abject black holes before we can join the fray. ‘In My Head’ and ‘Sighs’ also bottle the album’s distinct faces, one a numb, ostensibly groovy ditty and the other a Citrus-y spate of belated vim.

“We’ve become what we never wanted”, sings Yuki on ‘Perfectly Crystal’. Those stubborn, idealistic souls, the ones who vowed never to abandon their sacred agency, they’ve crumbled. Where we once evaded every bind in the book by frolicking in a fuzz only we could perceive, we now bleed sweat and tears in futile hopes of catching up to it. We’ve lost it. A distance has grown, a chasm delineating the rose-tinted, sepia-toned “who we were” and the fragile, all-too-lucid “who we might be”. We’re petrified, paralyzed, afraid of every scenario laid out, afraid of augmenting our detachment from the extant, afraid of relinquishing our golden days. We’re so rapt in our fondness for the warmth and mettle and invincibility of the bygone, in fact, that we fail to notice the headway we’ve chiseled in the felicitous wilderness before our feet.

There is a light we’re chasing, it’s just too early to gauge on which end of the tunnel we’ll emerge, or if we ever will.

Score: 5.9 / 10