You don’t have to examine Fluorescence too closely to find the traces of Ride and My Bloody Valentine that listeners have come to anticipate from Asobi Seksu. But in spite of the heavy patina of reverb undergirding songs like “Trails” and “Perfectly Crystal,” the descriptor “shoegaze” no longer seems to rest so comfortably upon this New York quartet, nor does its close cousin “dream pop.” Both signifiers imply a certain wispiness, a gaseous, otherworldly quality that this set simply doesn’t have the patience for.
Fluorescence finds the band edging from the somber, hazy melodies of Hush back toward a punchier sound reminiscent of their sophomore album, Citrus, but the raucous arrangements often relegate feedback to a supporting role, with cleaner, more focused guitar and synth lines steering the songs. Much credit for the album’s success is due to drummer Larry Gorman; his frenetic beats often move in unexpected ways in relation to the comparatively precious melodies swirling around him (see “My Baby” for a great example of this). It adds a welcome layer of complexity to songs that might otherwise unfold in too linear a fashion.
Singer Yuki Chikudate really dominates the record, through her glistening, 80s keyboard accents, and the fact that her voice is now front and center in the mix, no longer vying for dominance with the other instruments. The resulting album lands somewhere between the grandiosity of Visqueen and the nostalgia of M83. Some of the tracks opt for the former, like the nearly seven-minute-long prog-gasm “Leave the Drummer out There,” while others, like “Counterglow” (with guitarist John Hannah offering his best British New Wave monotone), wallow in Brat Pack teen melodrama. Occasionally, they manage to harness both of these impulses in equal measure. “Sighs,” in particular, utilizes some weighty synth, reminiscent of The Cure at their poppiest, to provide added oomph to its tale of unrequited (lesbian?) love.
And yet Asobi Seksu still struggle to establish a unique identity for themselves in the indie rock world. Even as they crawl out of the shoegaze/dream pop box, they seem to be heading straight into another one labelled “new wave/synth pop.” This lack of an independent sense of “self” is compounded even further by the largely forgettable lyrics. While Fluorescence may be an enjoyable record, it’s certainly not a remarkable one. Hannah and Chikudate are adept at digesting diverse influences and turning them into an album that’s pleasing to the ear, but few would consider it essential.