By Aidan Stoddart
Kishi Bashi Explores on New Album, Sonderlust
There is no music quite like that of Kishi Bashi. The talented multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Athens, Georgia produces intricate and vibrant psychedelic-rock-meets-orchestral-pop pieces, characterized by extensive use of the violin (Kishi Bashi’s native instrument), fluttering vocals, dreamy lyrics, and nostalgic synthesizers.
I saw Kishi Bashi live at The Jefferson a while back, and while I am no synesthesiac, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that his music drips with color. I am a huge fan of his sophomore effort, 2014’s effervescent Lighght, and I quite like his first record, 151a, as well.
Thus, when I heard that he was releasing new music, I became very excited, and after all my anticipation, I am happy to say that I was not at all disappointed. September’s Sonderlust is a glowing record and a positive evolution in Kishi Bashi’s eclectic, lush sound.
As are all of his albums, Sonderlust is a diverse record. In listening, I found myself darting between synthpop and psychedelia and indie and orchestral sounds–classics for Kishi Bashi–but also encountered new stylistic choices. The seventh track, “Who’d You Kill,” begins in characteristic Kishi Bashi fashion, with a host of lush strings, but then becomes a funky and bluesy song, based around a simple vamped chord progression and a tasty rhodes piano. “Ode to My Next Life” features a high-energy electronic breakdown that is a bit jarring but well-implemented. The final track, the ebullient “Honeybody,” adopts a style reminiscent of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” except more jubilant, with an almost Latin groove and lyrics evocative of Caribbean tunes.
The most notable surprise can be found in track 3, “Say Yeah.” The song commences with the blips and bloops of chiptune over crisp electronic drum beats, evolves into a steady disco-esque ballad with lilting falsetto vocals, and ends with none other than a jazz flute solo, a very new choice for Kishi Bashi. While I am ambivalent about some of the sonic changes brought about by Sonderlust (I’m not inspired by “Who’d You Kill,” for example), “Say Yeah” is the epitome of positive musical evolution. I would love to see Kishi Bashi experiment with jazz more in the future; he clearly has an ear for it.
The listener finds some general points of musical evolution for Kishi Bashi as well. For example, I would argue that overall, the violin that normally characterizes Kishi Bashi’s music takes on a backseat role in Sonderlust; strings in tracks are often relegated to intros or conclusions, or are more subtly in the mix. They are not absent, just less prevalent than in the past. This is not necessarily a bad thing for fans of Kishi Bashi’s complex orchestral arrangements; the instrumental mix in these tracks remains as varied and intricate as ever, if perhaps a bit more reliant on synthesizers.
The greatest strength of Sonderlust is without a doubt Kishi Bashi’s vocal arrangements. He has always implemented multi-layered vocals in his music, but on this record they are especially well-designed. Whether the delicate falsetto harmonies in “Say Yeah,” or the jagged, auto-tuned vocal samples in “Statues in a Gallery,” or something in between, Kishi Bashi’s voice is one of the most fun things on the record to sink into and enjoy.
My only criticism would be that sometimes the songs are a bit reserved for my taste; I would have liked to experience some of the dazzling climaxes that made me love earlier Kishi Bashi songs like “Manchester” or “Philosophize With It, Chemicalize With It.” The song “Why Don’t You Answer Me” is frustratingly monotone, for example, and when I get to the end, I feel that the song is not complete, and that it is not brimming with emotion. Luckily, this is not the biggest turn-off for me as a listener, since Kishi Bashi often compensates for a lack of exhilarating climaxes through introducing odd new sounds that are just as engaging in their own way.
In conclusion, Sonderlust is a strong record, and while it is at times less lush than the Kishi Bashi of the past, it is full of strange new sonic textures and delightful forays into previously untouched genres. I highly recommend it to any fan of Kishi Bashi’s older stuff, and to fans of indie-pop in general. It is excellently eclectic, endlessly engaging, and overall a very enjoyable listen.
Favorite Songs: m’lover; Statues in a Gallery; Flame on Flame (a slow dirge); Can’t Let Go, Juno
Least Favorite Song: Why Don’t You Answer Me
Picture: Kishi Bashi sings while riffing on his signature instrument, a violin that he runs through several effects pedals