colleague of mine noted recently, "There are no immature or trite topics—only immature and trite approaches." Though this didn't necessarily relate to music, it does illustrate the problem with most rock bands today. Because of the third-generation looting and pilfering, entire genres of music (post-punk, jangle pop, classic rock, fucking indie rock itself) have, quite simply, become clichés.
In reviews of Asobi Seksu's Citrus, close to every single piece of writing used the word "reverb," the dreaded statement "walls of guitars," and tiresome allusions to My Bloody Valentine. So it's understandable that a first impression of the album would prompt throwing it in with The Radio Dept. and every other blatant shoegaze rip-off outfit that wanks with their whammy bar. And that’s fair, to a degree.
But what seemingly hasn't been talked about regarding Citrus is that the songwriting is great: real, fleshed-out paintings in place of the basic sketches that littered their self-titled debut. OK, so the sound is bigger, but that's obvious. What's not recognizable is not what those sounds are, but how they're executed. There are a plethora of quirky tricks and brief, memorable riffs, mostly thanks to guitarist James Hanna. Listen, for example, to when the guitar interrupts its clean, ringing pattern with an Isn't Anything-style bend on "Strawberries" or the echoing, bare-bones slide figure on "Strings." What separates Citrus from the horde of shoegazer or other rock releases is that each song possesses tons of those ornamentations and idiosyncrasies. That might not be special; the Fiery Furnaces also have hook after hook on a single track. But on Citrus, each passage feels like a logical progression of its antecedent, and, simultaneously, every advancing section is completely unexpected.
"Thursday," the album's first single, is an ideal illustration. Gently gliding in on a fractured, ambient sound fragment, a sprightly bass plays over a muffled 4/4 kick/hi-hat beat. Singer Yuki Chikudate (who sings in both Japanese and English), coos a verse with a funerary tone, until the band launches into a breathtakingly ethereal chorus. When they repeat the first verse, rather than reverting to the basic template, they add a strong snare and intertwining guitars straight out of Turn on the Bright Lights. As if that wasn't enough, they crank the second go-round of the chorus up a notch, drop a chiming, bell-laced breakdown, and then decide to usher in the de facto enveloping sound and aching vocal melody for an overwhelming finale. That's just one song. And pretty much every track (with the exception of the drab "Exotic Animal Paradise") here shares the same qualities: multi-part structuring, addictive melodies, and clever overdubs.
I can't understand the lyrics when Yuki's singing in Japanese, but I do understand when she's singing in English. I can't imagine that the Japanese lyrics are very much different from cloyingly maudlin, neo-romantic lines like, "In drops on the dew / I wished they were you," or schmaltzy psychedelic pop statements like "disconnect the feeling factory." What could be a massive detraction, however, turns into a minor flaw, for Yuki doesn't focus on what she's saying, but how she delivers it. Her voice, which was incorrectly placed front-and-center, with no effects, on Asobi Seksu, is applied differently on Citrus. Though there are a million tricks going on all around her, the focus is always directed squarely on her instrument, which—regardless of the shape or path it takes—is always the eye of the storm.
One might say that what Citrus does well is draw from shoegazer's ability to control noise and clamor so that it creates beauty, but that wouldn’t exactly be it. The fundamental difference between is that even though Asobi Seksu employ noise into their aesthetic, it's never to such an extensive degree that it feels like discord. Citrus is an outstanding record because it doesn't fixate on what makes great shoegazer music but what makes great pop music, thus proving that approaches are what make albums—not the genre.
Reviewed by: Tal Rosenberg
Reviewed on: 2006-08-24