I really don’t want to talk about Charlie Sheen. At all. When I turn on the news, I want to know about Libya and the current federal budget negotiations and what’s going in in Wisconsin (apparently, this is going on in Wisconsin. I don’t know how you feel about unions, but I think you should maybe be upset about the precedent established by politically motivated budget cuts. Also, Sean Hannity is in a union). I don’t care about a clearly mentally ill, drug-addled millionaire who lost his job playing an obnoxious prick on a television show by being an obnoxious prick in real life. But I’ve been listening to the new Asobi Seksu record, Fluorescence, and I keep thinking to myself that every batshit crazy notion that passes through what’s left of Charlie Sheen’s blow-cooked brain is probably soundtracked by music eerily similar to what I’ve been hearing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that listening to Asobi Seksu will send me off on a drug-fueled, uncomfortably public cry for help.
Here are some things I learned about Asobi Seksu in preparation for this article – they belong to a genre of music called “dream pop” (it’s kind of fitting) and, when they started out, they were called Sportfuck. I couldn’t find the lyrics for Fluorescence anywhere (my $4.99 used copy doesn’t contain any) and that’s actually okay because it enables me to cling to the fantasy that at least a few of these songs are about fucking unicorns and killing white people (and/or fucking white people and killing unicorns). So why the hell did I buy this thing anyway?
Well, it was early February, which ain’t exactly a time of shimmering abundance in terms of new music, and I saw that Asobi Seksu had put out a new album. Pitchfork seemed to chide the band for not sounding more like My Bloody Valentine, a band that I view as overrated on a par with the Police. So naturally, I was inclined to reward a band that pointedly doesn’t sound like My Bloody Valentine. And I remembered that I had heard Asobi Seksu years ago, when I worked at Tower Records in Harvard Square. It was just a month or two before I moved to Los Angeles and one of the newish clerks, I want to say her name is Holly (I’ll be a little embarrassed if that’s not the case. I remember she was really awesome and I think her boyfriend was in some kind of swing/steam-punk band) brought in one of their albums. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember thinking it was a nice thing to hear on a sticky, humid Boston summer evening. Probably because it sounded exactly like this Sprite commercial looks. It’s a dumb commercial, and yet so stimulating. This is why I hate commercials.
Where was I?
Oh yeah: so then I found Fluorescence for five bucks at Amoeba. Lo and behold, Asobi Seksu does not sound like My Bloody Valentine. Unlike those shoegaze (it’s a genre; you don’t need to know what it is unless you do lots of heroin) pioneers, Asobi Seksu actually sounds good. Although I get the impression that too much of this stuff will rot my teeth. As I said, “dream pop” is a very accurate way to describe Fluorescence. It’s very pretty from start to finish, with hazy, overdriven guitar bits and Yuki Chikudate’s J-Pop diva vocals riding your dopamine reward pathway like Charlie Sheen rides a porn star. Only with less choking (one more thing on the Sheen-inator before I drop it: why is it that the producers and various network nitwits behind Two and a Half Men watched Sheen perpetrate several episodes of domestic violence – and paid him – without firing him but they kicked him to the curb for badmouthing one of the show’s creators? Is the rule at CBS that you can beat up as many women as you want as long as you don’t talk smack about your boss? Because that’s a shitty rule).
The reason I worry that too much Asobi Seksu will give me auditory diabetes is that I get the feeling that their music doesn’t add up to a whole lot more than its ample prettiness. You might think pretty is great and it is for a while, but it doesn’t stick to your ribs. You can eat all the red velvet cupcakes you want, but if you don’t get some fruits and veggies in there, you’ve got a whole lot of scurvy in your future. That’s why you should get the dark chocolate-covered “powerberries” (a.k.a. “berries with antioxidants”) from Trader Joe’s instead of the red velvet cupcakes, which are a vastly overrated food in my humble opinion (Oh shit. Now he thinks he’s a food critic).
But as much as I think Asobi Seksu is pretty and sugary and all the things you would expect “dream pop” (which must always be written in quotes) to be, I have a really hard time being upset about anything when I’m listening to Fluorescence. And I strongly feel that sometimes we need to be upset about things. Like when asshole actors beat women up and don’t lose their $2 million-an-episode jobs for it. (Okay, I’m really done now. I promise.) Songs like “Sighs” and “My Baby” are just too much fucking fun; the latter features the cutest refrain you’ll ever hear of “My baby doesn’t love me anymore/ my baby doesn’t love me at all.” That’s the problem with food that’s really bad for you – it is, by a wide margin, the most delicious. I’d love to eat a soup of dark chocolate-covered berries in a broth of Ninkasi Oatis oatmeal stout but, being a responsible adult, I know that would be really really awful for me.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), it’s much easier to stop ingesting empty musical calories than it is to stop devouring real empty calories (as I type this, a mostly eaten bag of Cool Ranch Doritos is whispering sexy things to me from the cupboard. Leave me be, Doritos! “Ranch” isn’t even a food). Also fortunately, Fluorescence has its dull moments. “Deep Weird Sleep” is a throwaway instrumental and the only reason I’m glad it’s there is because it reminds me that there are things I definitely don’t like about this album, which occasionally enables me to stop listening to the thing.
You might get the idea from my words that I consider Fluorescence a guilty pleasure. But here’s the thing: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. You like what you like, you should own it, and that’s that. So this new Asobi Seksu record is a pleasure pure and simple, with emphasis on the “simple.” And I think “meretricious” is probably a more apt modifier for “pleasure” than “guilty” in this case. Fluorescence is the only Asobi Seksu album I own and I think it’s probably safer to keep it that way. In fact, if I’m smart, it will the only “dream pop” album I own, lest I devolve into some sort of insubstantial sonic hedonist.
And starting tomorrow, no more Cool Ranch Doritos.