review by Carrie Rubens
photos by James Bailey
The Chop Suey Sunday night was filled with some amazing sounds and pleasant surprises beginning with Swedish singer/songwriter Anna Ternheim. Often playing with only with an acoustic guitar, Ternheim was backed up tonight by the band from Loney Dear to accompany her melodic folk music.
Co-headlining the show with Loney Dear was Brooklyn-based Asobi Seksu. Among a variety of twenty-somethings in the crowd, I spoke briefly to a guy sitting next to me who was visiting from San Francisco. He told me that upon hearing the word “shoegaze” to describe the band, he was sold on coming out tonight. As the band launched into their set, it was surprising how incredibly alive and rambunctious they sounded.
Their name comes from the Japanese term for casual sex, and Asobi Seksu has been sporting that moniker for three out of four album releases. Perhaps there’s just something a little more elegant about putting “Sportfuck” in another language. Asobi Seksu has often been compared with My Bloody Valentine, which in large part seems due to James Hanna’s guitar-playing, which toes the upper register sonically.
The petite Yuki Chikudate barely reaches bassist Glenn Walman’s shoulders in stature, as she bangs her head back and forth with the music against flashing strobe lights. At the helm of a synthesizer keyboard, she rocked out center stage to the landscape of heavy bass drumbeats and ambient pop melodies, switching often between Japanese and English lyrics. At one point, Chikudate mentioned that she was battling a cold, but it was hard to tell with her powerful soprano vocals over the pounding bass.
Amid their transitioning into each song with such ambition, “In the Sky” was a welcome change of pace with its slow start. But soon enough it too built into an exciting, accelerating tempo. Chikudate’s voice began to soar while the bass kept the band grounded -- without it, it seemed like they would fly off like a thousand helium balloons strapped to a deckchair.
After watching most of the set, my friend from earlier recanted his statement about shoegaze because Asobi Seksu wasn’t so much gazing at their shoes but dancing with them. Their songs moved with, rather than against, the wall of sound.
For anyone who caught My Bloody Valentine’s 20-minute sonic assault at the close of their set last April, Asobi Seksu gave the audience their pint-sized version of that textural, noisy atmosphere to close out their final song, during which Chikudate pulled off her gold chain necklaces, which seemed to have gotten tangled in her hair amidst the headbanging and battled with them as the noise continued. Finally released from their web, she draped them on her microphone stand before taking Keith Hopkin’s spot behind the drum kit. As the lights went low, and she delivered a steady and powerful rocking beat. She killed it.
Co-headlining the show, Loney Dear, hails from the small city of Jonkoping, Sweden and has been creating the most beautiful compositions since 2005. Emil Svanangen the creative force in the group began by recording his songs on CD-Rs, until eventually getting picked up by Subpop Records. Having rarely toured in the United States prior to his most recent release, “Dear John,” Sunday’s Chop Suey show was Svanangen’s third visit to the states this year. Loney Dear has also brought back an original member on keys and tambourine that missed out on the last tour.
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the multiple layers of melodies that Svanangen has composed.They open up with “I was only going out,” which starts out quiet, drawing the audience in close, new details of music appear, and each element contributes to the texture and complication of the songs. Before you know it, you’re wrapped up in each beautiful composition and as it builds, and it’s carrying you away.
It can get so quiet that conversations in the back of the room are clearly heard. At “In with the Arms (I love you)” Svanangen, turning his microphone away, asks somebody to turn off a noisily blowing fan, and even the talkers in the back of the bar shut up to listen to him,
Svanangen is charming throughout the set with his unassuming, and modest stage presence. Announcing he has only two songs left to play, insists that everyone stick around for a while after the show for a drink - alcoholic or non - just to say hello. Then he asks the audience to sing along a simple melody that accompanies him as he leads into “Sinister in a State of Hope.” Closing the set with “Dear John,” the title track to his latest album, sounds appropriately like a lullaby when he shows off his impressive vocal range, and sings “sleep well, sleep well tonight.” Without playing an encore, Loney Dear left me wanting more, and I can’t wait to see them again the next time they come around.