Sometime during the touring cycle that followed the release of their 2006 record Citrus, Asobi Seksu's guitar player and the architect of their impressively layered neo-shoegaze sound, James Hanna, told his partner in the band, singer Yuki Chikudate, that he was sick of guitars and wanted to do something different. Fast forward to their 2008 release Hush and the band, now down to a duo, has dismantled the wall of guitars and gone in a new direction. Where once there were layered guitars, buried vocals, and tons of loud effects, now there are icy synths, precise arrangements, and upfront vocals. It's kind of a daring move seeing how the noisy shoegaze sound was quite popular at the time, it's also daring because if you strip away the guitars and noise you are left with songs, and if they are weak, the album is going to be weak. Luckily, the songs on Hush are for the most part quite strong and emotionally powerful. Even without the thrilling rush of sonic hail, a tune like "Me & Mary" will get your blood rushing. The dreamy "I Can't See" doesn't need to be buried under the rubble of 100 amps to be a melancholy heartbreaker. Hanna never makes the critical mistake of simply subtracting the guitars without adding something equally important. Throughout Hush he proves adept at constructing interesting soundscapes built on guitar tones and dynamics and not just sheer volume and distortion. The washes of synth and fragments of guitar that slip in and out of the mix give the record some of the feel of an autumnal Cocteau Twins disc, the occasional moments of increased intensity and volume remind you that Hanna was a huge My Bloody Valentine follower. Chikudate too shows she is up for the task and it turns out that under all the reverb she has a powerfully supple voice. Sometimes sounding cold and detached like Debbie Harry, sometimes as airy and sweet as Liz Fraser, she gives the record some soul to go with the atmosphere. There's no doubt that on first listen it'll be easy to lament the disappearance of the old Asobi Seksu sound, but if you stick with Hush and give it a chance to really sink in, you might find that the new direction isn't really that different, and the quality of the songs and the depth of the performances make it a very pleasing listen. Besides, when you think about it, Asobi Seksu are only following the path that many first-wave shoegaze bands took. Apparently there's only so long bands can stand to fool with distortion before they feel the need to start writing "real" songs that don't rely on sonic embellishment to get the point across. Sometimes it worked (Lush, Moose), sometimes it didn't (Ride, Chapterhouse). For Asobi Seksu on Hush, it does.