Kishi Bashi – 151a
by Matthew Yau
Of all the awesome debut albums that have come out this year, most people would choose offerings from either Mercury Award winners Alt-J or Django Django (other mentions should also be considered but we’ll save that for another day). I’d have to think about it properly another time but Kishi Bashi’s 151a makes a glaring case for itself. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone else but new music hasn’t quite enchanted me with goosebumps since my adolescence. 151a might not have given me goosebumps but it might just have stolen my heart – is it even possible to fall in love with a sound?
Kishi Bashi is the pseudonym of singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Kaoru Ishibashi. He studied classical music and became a renowned violinist. With his trusty fiddle, he is a touring member of renowned bands Of Montreal, Regina Spektor and Sondre Lerche. He is also the founding member and singer of Jupiter One and with such a rich background in music, it’s not surprise that he wanted to embark on his own solo adventure. Music fans around the world are delighted he had done so! Kaoru managed to find the holy grail of music – producing something that is inherently new yet strangely familiar.
Ishibashi’s classical background is wonderfully illuminated in the opener. It builds and bellows before slowing down so you can soak in all the vibrant layers and then you realise, “this is gonna be good”. I was going to write about King Charles earlier in the year and I’m glad I didn’t because Kishi Bashi’s brand of indie-flecked orch-pop is more diverse, dynamic and expertly composed. It’s an example of pop that refuses to grow stale.
Anyone who listened to his EP Room For Dream would be familiar with the following two tracks ‘Manchester’ and ‘Bright Whites’; both are as infectious as each other whilst occupying different spectrums of Ishibashi’s compositional range. With a looping violin in the background, ‘Manchester’ builds with the kind of patience that mainstream artists and their labels simply don’t have time for. You have almost the entire track to realise Kaoru’s vocal range as he asks “Will you be mine?” before the layers of violins intensify.
My favourite is ‘Bright Whites’ though. Music is rarely this joyous without sounding sappy – unsurprisingly, Kishi Bashi is signed to Joyful Noise Records. Many people have an armoury of tunes which they know they can turn to during rainy days – you can add this one to it. Ishibashi sums it up in the first English verse: “You and me at the edge of the world/ With a pretty little smile for me to see”.
The rest of the album basically follows suit. The blend of electronic textures, orchestral swirls, chamber-pop vocals are splashed with psychedelic tinges and folky flourishes. Each track entices you with vibrancy that is difficult to deny. But Kaoru can mix it up too with something altogether darker and more serious in tracks like ‘Atticus, In The Desert’ and ‘I Am The Antichrist To You’. It leaves you wondering where the deadwood is going to come from. Then when the album ends you realise it never came. That is the mark of truly excellent album, one that leaves you shunning ‘skip’ button and fearing the final notes.