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Music Review: Asobi Seksu – Citrus

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More so than movies or books, music can sometimes be seasonal. That's not to suggest that a given album can't be enjoyed off-season, but rather that there's a certain added pleasure to listening to it when the time is right. As suggested by the pumpkin-orange artwork that adorns the cover of shoegaze alt-rockers Asobi Seksu's sophomore full-length, 2006's Citrus, this is an album for the fall. Both the lyrical content of the set (that which can be made out, and is in English), as well as the dense and layered arrangements, exude a palpable haziness and melancholia. Yet, there's a warmth too — found in the bouncy, chiming textures of these monolithic rockers — which keeps things from seeming too cold and distant. Citrus is an album that's perfect for the autumnal months, when hot summer days awkwardly (and often abruptly) transition into frigid winter nights.

Blustery hurricanes of low-end and distortion dominate the atmosphere, but not without a fight from lead singer Yuki Chikudate's quivering and ethereal voice, which occasionally breaks through the din, only to be swallowed whole by a colossal wall of sound once more. Take lead single "New Years," for example, which finds Yuki's fragile whisper riding atop a mountain of titanic distortion and trebling bass, eventually dispelling the noise long enough to croon the track's gorgeous bridge, only to be drown out moments later by an even greater sonic assault; it's an auditory struggle akin to the push-and-pull of the seasonal weather. But that's as hectic as it gets, which is important to point out, lest I undersell the tunefulness of this album. Cuts like "Lions And Tigers," which skimps on none of the band's requisite amounts of low-end, but tempers the intensity with Yuki's lullaby-sung verses and playful jingling during the subdued (at least by this band's standards) chorus. Of course, even this song eventually builds to a symphonic, eardrum-shattering climax, but that's more a testament to the restless nature of these sprawling compositions.

Citrus approaches within-its-genre perfection, but, unfortunately, it does stumble a bit. To make matters worse, its two missteps sit right next to each other chronologically, at the dead center of the album. First up, there’s "Pink Cloud Tracing Paper," which lacks the loud-quiet-loud discipline of the other cuts found here, but could be forgiven if not for the decision to hand the mic off to the band's other half, guitarist James Hanna (whose weak, indistinct vocal doesn't do the song any favors); followed by the nearly eight-minute muddle of "Red Sea," which lacks form and goes on far, far too long. Both are relatively minor sins, but they nonetheless soften the impact of the work as a whole.

Thankfully, the two weakest cuts are followed by the strongest; penultimate single "Goodbye" opens with a rousing drum roll only slightly less gratifying than the killer riffs that accompany the verse. Factor in the track's honey-sweet chorus, and what you end up with exemplifies the kind of crystalline art-pop so many attempt and so few execute with such precision. At under four minutes, the track could have easily felt cropped next to the various, more ambitious compositions it keeps company with, but the band is so efficient when it comes to pacing and structure that they're able to imbue the song with enough variance to make it more than just a catchy bit of junk food. Sentiments which apply to the entirety of Citrus, which registers as one of the catchiest pop albums of 2006, while sacrificing none of the layered production values that are the stock-in-trade of the shoegaze formula.

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