There’s a reason listeners gobble up Broken Social Scene and its unconventional fusion of strings and horns, Grizzly Bear’s mystic, dreamlike vocals and the surprisingly understated instrumentals of Volcano Choir: Experimental bands keep the music scene stimulating. It’s easy to be drawn in by their inventiveness, which challenges mainstream music with eccentric sounds and pushes expectations into new territory. After all, when was the last time someone listened to Animal Collective without being hypnotized by its offbeat melodies and effects?

Asobi Seksu


Then there’s Asobi Seksu. With strange, fluttery female vocals and unfocused instrumentals, the band’s new album, Fluorescence, has little in common with most of music that pumps though our speakers — but not necessarily in a positive way.

The album starts promisingly with “Coming Up” as drum beats and the light, choppy vocals of Yuki Chikudate fall gently against a stronger synthesizer line. Guitars and male vocals soon join, weaving together a diverse, irresistibly upbeat song. It’s an intoxicating crescendo of sounds, trance-like and delicate while underlined with firmer electronic melodies.

This, however, is where the dream-pop magic ends. While the layers of “Coming Up” float effortlessly, the rest of Fluorescence isn’t as cohesive — instead, it’s clunky, scattered and just doesn’t make sense.

“Trails” is one of many unsuccessful numbers, as its multiple elements strike against each other awkwardly for the length of the four-minute track. Fuzzy guitars are covered by keyboards and messy drum crashes, creating a clatter of sounds instead of the smooth, intricate ones heard at the beginning of the album. It’s an obnoxious, muddled mess that generates more confusion than actual enjoyment.

Matters are only made worse when Chikudate begins to sing. Though she clearly has a strong voice, it is too strong for the already chaotic tracks. She overwhelms the songs with powerful notes — both on- and off-key — and fails to carry an actual melody at any point. As she whines that her “baby doesn’t love (her) anymore” and how confused this makes her feel in bizarre pitches and scales, it’s difficult to feel sympathetic. It might be a more natural reaction to ask, “What the hell was that?”

The rest of the tracks are just as puzzling. Though the instrumentals are pleasing in places — like the electrifying synthesizer in “In My Head” or the psychedelic keyboard of “Deep Weird Sleep” — there is a disjointed feeling in the songs as a whole. Some parts shine individually but are thrown together in a thoughtless way, each competing to be the tracks’ center of focus. When paired with the overpowering coos and strange tones of the vocals, the album sounds more like noise than music; it’s a frenzied static of instruments lacking a clear goal or melody.

While Asobi Seksu describes its music as “experimental dream pop,” it’s frightening to imagine the kind of dream this album describes. Garbled in its messy sounds and irritating vocals, Fluorescence would be a better soundtrack to a drug-induced panic attack than the gentle waves of the REM cycle. There might just be a line between experimental music and white noise; if so, Asobi Seksu has stumbled over it with clumsy, cumbersome strides.

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