Asobi Seksu came together in New York City in 2001 and spent the next few years refining a sound closely modeled on the so-called shoegazers of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Guitarist James Hanna created a loud, swirling, psychedelic haze, forming a striking contrast with Yuki Chikudate’s high-pitched voice. But it wasn’t until after Hanna started turning down the volume that Asobi Seksu produced what many critics called their most satisfying release, 2009’s Hush. On that disc, Hanna created mostly chiming, echoing sounds instead of jet-engine roars. Or, if you prefer, he stopped trying to sound like My Bloody Valentine and invoked the Cocteau Twins instead. Either way you look at it, the change opened up space in the sound, giving more room for Chikudate’s keyboard parts and vocal melodies.
On the new Fluorescence, Chikudate is even more in the foreground. Producer Chris Zane moves Hanna mostly out of the spotlight, preferring to crank up the vocals and put a trebly sheen on top of everything. It’s decidedly on the pop side of dream pop. When Asobi Seksu does get loud, the contrast doesn’t work like it used to. See “My Baby,” where a wall-of-sound drumbeat bursts through the speakers, and all Chikudate can do is chirp, “My baby doesn’t love me anymore.” It sounds silly coming from a band whose name is Japanese for “casual sex.”
The good news is that Asobi Seksu doesn’t sound like an imitation of anyone else this time. They’re still searching for the perfect balance between pop and rock — and between themselves and their influences. But they’re getting there.
The Braids and Tapedeck Mountain also perform.
ASOBI SEKSU: The Casbah, Friday, March 11, 8:30. 619-232-4355. $12.