New York quartet Asobi Seksu's album cover has a "dream pop" label stamped squarely top-left like a '60s hi-fi Stones record. They obviously aren't afraid of wearing their influences on their sleeves. Asobi Seksu is a pastiche of early '90s indie rock, with flagrant overtones of My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab, and even Arab Strap. Reductively speaking, this is shoegaze for the '04 set. But who says that's a bad thing?
The name doesn't mean "play sex" for nothing. Singer Yuki's earnest vocals simultaneously tease and cling, rebuff and plead. Guitarist and sometime-vocalist James Hanna (sounding very Kevin Shields-like himself) proves an able foil; throughout the record, his anguished, swirling guitar's crescendos into despair only sweeten Yuki's voice. The band plays this duality with aplomb, sandwiching twee J-pop interstitials between the emotional heavyweights. On songs like "It's Too Late," it revisits the timeless discovery that love sucks and that the ties that bind can leave rope burn. Asobi Seksu is rock medicine for dreamers, for loners sitting cross-legged on their beds late at night. Let's hope Asobi Seksu doesn't emulate certain teachers so closely that things fall apart right at the beautiful, earth-shattering moment when it's just hit its stride. -- Kelly Shindler