Listen to the online-only live album that Brooklyn band Asobi Seksu released in October 2006, and the first thing you hear is a loud burst of guitar feedback. Guitarist James Hanna bends his notes, tweaking more overtones and squeals out of his amp for a couple of minutes before drums and bass come pounding into the mix and Yuki Chikudate’s high voice chimes in like a little bird trying to be heard over the sound of a rocket launch. Next, listen to Hush, the new Asobi Seksu album, and instead of feedback you’ll hear chiming guitars and gentle synths providing cozy pillows under the head of that songbird.
The official explanation for this abrupt change is that, while on tour in 2006, Hanna realized he was tired of loud guitars and decided to change direction. The cynical explanation is that Asobi Seksu got tired of trying to sound like My Bloody Valentine and decided to sound like the Cocteau Twins instead. A third explanation might be that between Asobi Seksu’s last album and Hush, My Bloody Valentine got back together, and Hanna and Chikudate realized there was no point in trying to compete with the real thing.
But none of those explanations fully accounts for the big step forward evident on Hush. Unable to float along on waves of noise, Hanna and Chikudate had to sharpen their songwriting skills. The songs don’t necessarily have pop hooks, but they build up to emotional climaxes (Hanna hasn’t completely retired the noisy guitar) that carry a wallop even at those times when Chikudate is singing in Japanese. There are plenty of moments when they don’t just sound like the Cocteau Twins, they sound better.
ASOBI SEKSU, Casbah, Sunday, March 15, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $10.