Asobi Seksu Asobi Seksu

[Friendly Fire; 2004]

Styles: shoegaze, pop-rock, indie rock
Others: Ride, Pixies, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Drugstore, Medicine

If ten years invested in the local scenes of three different Midwestern towns have taught me one thing, it is that singers are at a premium. I couldn't begin to count the number of bands that have forced me to listen to the vocalist's atonal baritone, unpleasant "emoting" (read: screaming), or failed Thom Yorke impersonation. The terrible voices are often made all the more unpleasant by the singers' absolute lack of charisma. Because of this, any band that has a true presence at the lead-singer position has a leg up on the competition and can get away with wearing its influences on its sleeves. This is the case with Asobi Seksu (Japanese for "play sex").

Asobi Seksu's Yuki Chikudate is a true presence. Yuki effortlessly shifts her on-tape personas from Japanese school-girl ("I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me") to disaffected indie-kid ("Walk on the Moon") to detached Italian songbird ("Taiyo," which recalls Morricone's '70s cult soundtracks). It is this skill that transforms the band's passable shoegazing into a distinct sound. One hates to call Chikudate the band's "gimmick," but until something new is added to the band's sound, she very much is.

So then why the h-e-double-hockey-sticks do three of the eleven tracks feature someone else on the lead vocals? And why is she replaced with the non-descript white-man baritone we've all heard 100 times before, from dozens of forgettable bands? Note to guitarist James Hanna: shut up and let the better singer do her job. Don't' get me wrong, I think your little songs are cute and all, but without Chikudate's charm, there is nothing separating you from tens of fashionable NYC bands, or for that matter any number of unfashionable Midwestern bands.

1. I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me
2. Sooner
3. Umi de No Jisatsu
4. Walk on the Moon
5. Let Them Wait
6. Taiyo
7. It's Too Late
8. End at the Beginning
9. Asobi Masho
10. Stay
11. Before We Fall