This New York City foursome has one advantage over the scores of not-so-enterprising rock bands that have come out of the woodwork since the groundbreaking My Bloody Valentine album Loveless: Yuki Chikudate, Asobi Seksu's alluring keyboardist/singer. And she really does stand out; an adorable Japanese girl amongst three white dudes? And with the latest bizarre fascination with anything Asian (thanks, Gwen—I love the commodification of ethnicities!) and a name like Asobi Seksu (loose translation: playful sex), the group runs the risk of being seen as gimmicky and—even worse—banking on the creepy fetishes of Rivers Cuomos everywhere. But naysayers need only give Asobi Seksu's 2004 self-titled debut (on Friendly Fire) a listen to realize Chikudate's bilingual lyrics and breathy vocal range add a certain dynamic so many other nu-gaze bands lack. While guitarist James Hanna's shots at lead vocals on such tracks as "Let Them Wait" are admirable, without Chikudate's contributions, the band would more than likely just fall along the wayside with various mediocre Kevin Shields-adoring groups of yore.
The album's considerably kitschy opening track, "I'm Happy But You Don't Like Me," is three minutes and seven seconds of neo-new wave J-pop bliss. Unlike most My Bloody Valentine emulations, you don't necessarily have to actually likethe distortion-heavy sound of shoegaze to enjoy Asobi Seksu. The song could be a perfect fit for an anime soundtrack or on your newest hip CD mix, equally impressive to your hip friends. Just know that the song really, really makes me want to dance around in my Hello Kitty underwear (and I do own some). Things get much more serious with "It's Too Late," which starts off with Chikudate's faint vocals and subtle lyrics ("Too late/The strings are all broken/Run away now, there's nothing to say") that fade out two minutes into the song, making way for an impressive four-plus minutes of heavily layered, pedal- and distortion-happy wall of sound, probably the album's most evident instance of Asobi Seksu's attempts at leaving their own signature on top of their list of creative influences. So, yeah, Sonic Youth, blah blah, My Bloody Valentine, blah blah, Japanese. But Asobi Seksu's swirling guitar and Chikudate's uniquely malleable vocal range has proved to this former skeptic their genuine artistic intent.
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ASOBI SEKSU WITH COTO NORMAL AT DETROIT BAR, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 646-0600; WWW.DETROITBAR.COM. WED., 9 P.M. $5. 21+.