Asobi Seksu has spent the last few years crafting a solid sense of self as a band; in that time, they’ve moved away from obvious shoegaze comparisons and towards a firm but floaty aesthetic that tingles with more than a hint of sex appeal. By no means does the group lose this aesthetic on Hush, their third full-length album and first for Polyvinyl Records. All of the pieces are still here; at base, Hush has plenty of slinky pop moments couched in an ethereal shroud of keys and guitars. At the same time, it’s strikingly obvious from the the opening notes of “Layers” that there’s a new thread emerging in the Asobi Seksu story. Where their last album Citrus held a sharper, more upbeat feel, Hush begins like an indie rock operetta, building up in intensity but never quite taking itself seriously.
This interplay keeps up throughout the course of the record as soft, slow harmonies and strong vocal exercises bring a certain new maturity to an already-building retro influence. It is difficult to listen to songs like “Transparence” and “In The Sky” and not immediately think of Debbie Harry, but it’s equally as easy to find the ease and simplicity of early 90s groups like Velocity Girl in “Familiar Light", or Small Factory in “I Can’t See”, wherein the classic call-and-response boy/girl vocal is evoked in nontraditional dreamy-sweet fashion.
Overall, Hush works hard not to fall into a tight-knit, catchy-song trap; at the same time, it hesitates to fully embrace the natural airy quality that Asobi Seksu is so known for. The results here are mixed. At times, these tracks achieve a glassy essence that begs for repeated listens; there’s a certain newness about them that is difficult to shrug off. Still, there’s a spark missing here that Citrus captured much more effectively, using captivating instrumental moments to diffuse a palpably sultry undercurrent. As the album’s title predicts, that sex appeal is far more subdued here, and the album as a whole seems less grounded. Still, Hush’s pleasant surprises tend to outweigh its disconnects, and they’re well worth listening closely for.