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Animal Collective prerađuje Beatlese.
The best spot-the-influence albums don’t just work obvious reference points into new shape via synthesis—they match or better those influences on their home turf. On his debut solo album, K Ishibashi (aka Kishi Bashi) doesn’t bother ducking the Andrew Bird and Owen Pallett comparisons that are bound to dog him as a solo pop violinist/multi-instrumentalist, and he seemingly makes no bones about his admiration for Animal Collective. That Ishibashi occasionally slips into Japanese in his songs is indicative of his overall approach; on 151a: He proves himself conversant in many languages without sacrificing his own idiosyncratic vision.
Ishibashi, also the singer-guitarist for New York pop outfit Jupiter One, has spent the last few years playing live solo shows, looping layers of sound on top of each other to create a compact orchestral sound. 151a reflects this approach in the interlocking repetitive lines underlying many of the compositions. But it’s the strong central melodies and a lyrical flood of romantic sentiment, bonkers imagery, and pop culture debris that propel these tunes along.
On the early album high point “Manchester”, he tracks the potential of a burgeoning love affair through literary metaphor from first page to novel to sequel to happy-sad ending: “My favorite part’s when I die / In your arms like a movie / It’s tragic, but now the story has its proper end”. Ishibashi juxtaposes these long-term aspirations with gently spoken overtures (“Oh hello / Will you be mine? / I haven’t felt this alive in a long time”), building both the fantasy and reality of the relationship from delicately plucked violin to sweeping strings. By the end of “Manchester”, it’s impossible to separate hope for the future from excitement of the present, and equally impossible to not get caught up in the song’s bliss.
The dramatic and romantic particularly suit Ishibashi. Another highlight, “Bright Whites”, immediately follows “Manchester”, and it’s even bigger and brighter in approach but with darker ambiguities embedded throughout. Over a folky, “Cecilia”-esque stomp, Ishibashi sketches another smitten lover, but this one’s a little more unhinged, a little less like long-term boyfriend material: “After you said that you liked Big Red / I opened up my mind and skipped a beat / Cufflinks and hands in wrong places and faces / and creepy little movies made me weep”. With dips into social commentary and doubts about the present (“We’re living in a land that went astray from history”) and a sweetly-sung, falsetto Japanese refrain that translates partially into “can’t take it anymore”, there’s quite a bit more going on here than suggested by the relaxed McCartney-esque vocal delivery in the verses. This hints at some of the grim romantic impulses that crop up in the later part of the album. “Atticus, in the Desert” pairs cinematic strings with campfire whistling to accompany the slow fade of love, although the lyric sheet suggests he can’t resist the odd music nerd pun (“What began as an epic / Ended a Partched pathetic / Arid and valid like our attachments”). On “I Am the Antichrist to You”, Ishibashi sets an ambiguous, falsetto-sung love story with a backdrop of fallen angels and burned souls to echo-drenched plinking.
When not preoccupied with the upsides and downsides of big romance, Ishibashi keeps things playfully varied and weird, affecting hyperactive Animal Collective on “It All Began With a Burst” and “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons” and dropping references to Wonder Woman, Highlander, and The Fast and the Furious elsewhere.
Perhaps it’s this exciting restlessness, combined with obvious instrumental talents, that explains why Kevin Barnes tapped Ishibashi to collaborate on Of Montreal’s recent Paralytic Stalks. There’s a similar mutability of styles at play on 151a, although they’re at peace with each other, far less tortured and schizophrenic than Barnes’ psychodrama. With his influences unabashedly on display — but never used as a crutch — and a sentimental streak that never comes across as mushy, Ishibashi’s lack of self-consciousness turns out to be 151a‘s most appealing quality.- David Bloom
About two months ago, there was an intensely competent (vanilla) New Yorker piece published about the (vanilla) group the Shins, penned by one of the most even-keeled (vanilla) music writers I’ve ever read. (I won’t link to it for obvious reasons, but it’s not a hard batch of paragraphs to scrounge up.) To paraphrase, the review said the Shins’ significance rests in their having made “unapologetically pretty” (vanilla) music, thus bravely paving the way for “indie music” to likewise be pretty (vanilla). While I found the article itself about as palatable as the fifty-cent (and I am sincerely asking: was that supposed to be vanilla?) soft-serve at the gas station across the street from my office—it is half a buck for a reason: no expiration dates—I also just do not believe any of that Shins business to be the case.
Because, had that been the case, Kishi Bashi’s string-centric aesthetic would be tied less to the likes of Owen Pallett and Andrew Bird, and more represented as a straight line between this album and the Shins of yore. (If you are thinking “vanilla” is not an apt term…I mean, track “Bright Whites” now graces the Martha Stewart Living: Cooking, Crafting, and Cleaning April Playlist. I do not “vanilla” in haste, readers.)
With choral vocals more effervescent than seapunk bubblescapes, Kishi Bashi’s 151a sounds like the equivalent of tilting your head one way, then the other, and then having a kind someone-slash-molecular-gastronomist blast a phenomenal amount of neoclassical, vanilla-infused foam into your ears. And it’s an effusively amiable burst in stark contrast to its wind-breaking bed(shitting?)fellow, of Montreal. While often functioning as Kevin Barnes’ right-hand man, K Ishibashi, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, here self-releases and self-produces his solo work as a distressingly tender, bright, and celebratory document of the airy upper reaches of vocals and violin pairings. Which is the last thing I expected after the deservedly wincing, and just as deservedly fart%-incurring, suckitude of the recent of Montreal release. While the backing vocals bear glimmers of the of Montreal aesthetic and the occasional song invokes similarly Barnesian electro-pop, 151a is the aforementioned “unapologetically pretty” brought to a level of fine-tuned, orchestrated zealousness for fine-tuned, orchestrated zealousness’s sake.
Operating live very similarly to Owen Pallet—with a loop pedal both harnessing and layering vocals and violins—Ishibashi seems to have recorded his album in the same way, taking brave delicacies and blowing them up to near-operatic glory. Textured with fantastical swipes of harp and staccato plucks of violin softened in the background, each instrument steps back from the spotlight and instead, warmly prickling like raised hairs, subsumes behind storybook soundscapes. Maybe Ishibashi’s music doesn’t quite carry Pallett’s heft or import, but the storytelling, fable-like personality of the album does.
151a is, in fact, highly narrative, so illustrative and well-composed it occasionally verges on something animated and directed, smacking of Disney musicals (a good place to mention: the whiffs of Lion King carried by the chorus work could be turned down a notch). While the flawless production plays without kinks, K Ishibashi doles out simplicity and, well, not imperfection so much as less perfection—where it counts. Namely in his vocals. Open to more of the vulnerabilities that come with a candid, less-massaged vocal track, he sings, “I haven’t been so in love in a long time,” over crescendos with a cautious (and not inhuman) touch.
Similar to of Montreal, a question begins to raise itself about the sincerity of the songs. Do you care? “Wonder Woman Wonder Me,” for instance, swoons to a hyperbolic doo-wop sway like some Saturday morning cartoon short of a bow-tied daisy crooning into an old radio mic. Curiously (or not) less present in the most of Montreal-sounding track on the album, “It all Began With a Burst,” which issues a wispy and weightless apparition of the band’s electro-pop former glory, is that question of sincerity. With vocals unnervingly similar to Kevin Barnes, Ishibashi sounds himself like a ghost of the guy who sang “Tim, Wish You Were Born a Girl.”
In the loose-tongued lyrical-ness of Animal Collective, he details new days, new loves, finger-sucking in the desert (m’kay), and thoughts like “everyone loves reading a novel.” So, I like this guy’s attitude, especially about the latter, but where it’s optimistic it’s also questionable, and where it’s grim in content it’s unseasonably temperate and cradled in whistles, handclaps, and other stuff that would probably be home on some super-depressed Menomena song. The amount of stuff that soars, the infinitely-prettier-than-actual-Manchester track “Manchester,” and the gleaming, languorous melody of “Bright White”s clapping/stomping pace, reminiscent of Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr,” it all belies diseases, endings, and short days. Seriously, these tracks are like…hotel-towel nice.
“Every story has its proper end”? Well, that can’t possibly be true. But given this album’s conception as a Kickstarter project’s wet-dream-come-true, the world Kishi Bashi paints with that lily-petal-light brush revolves around that rich sentiment, that all things find their destined conclusion, held up as a truth and source of gravity. Fair enough; even to its benefit, the remarkably colorful album that’s spun around that fiction is as palatable as it is resolved. And enjoying it solely depends on your ability to stomach something so fantastically…well, you know. - CokemachineGlow
Those unfamiliar with Kishi Bashi‘s (“full” name K. Ishibashi – get it?) work are in for a treat with his latest album, “151a” – pronounced “ichi-go-ichi-e” and meaning in his words “to cherish that one unique moment”. Before listening, even though I knew of him, I too was unfamiliar with the Seattle (I know, right?) musician’s work and didn’t know much what to expect. The first minutes of the album, opener “Intro / Pathos, Pathos”, came as a surprise, then, and my sense of wonder remained, until over half an hour later when the hectic outro of “Beat the Bright Out of Me” came to a close. And that was just on first listen.
It seems that the sense of wonderment that is created when listening to “151a” isn’t unique to those merely taking part in the journey. Rather, it’s as if Kishi Bashi himself took inspiration from the world around him when writing the album, with such lyrics as “when Pluto was demoted I felt a sigh of relief I didn’t know why” on “Wonder Woman, Wonder Me” or his repeated remark on “Manchester” that “[he hasn't] felt this way in a long time” as he describes the story with comparisons to writing a novel and pleads the listener to be his.
It’s difficult to resist, as the textures he’s able to create with his primary use of looped vocals and strings, only occasionally aided by percussive hand claps and light synthesizers, become incredibly easy to get lost in. The results are best when, like on “Manchester” or “Bright Whites”, – both completely remixed from the versions of last year’s “Room For Dream” EP – Ishibashi adds swells of intense emotion leading to climaxes such as the Japanese chants at the end of the latter or the rush of strings and vocals on the former.
That’s not to say that more carefully crafted works, such as “I Am the Antichrist to You” aren’t worthy of attention. At times backed by only a violin loop, Kishi Bashi gives perhaps his finest vocal performance in any of his studio recordings. The builds are a lot slower, and everything seems a bit more delicate than on the high-energy pieces mentioned above, but Ishibashi keeps the situation under control with the mastery of his voice and instruments.
As much as it would please me to say that the record isn’t flawed, to my ears, it does have a minor slip-up. It comes in the form of the album’s shortest track, “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons”. The overly frantic energy doesn’t suit Kishi Bashi as well as it might have the band he used to tour with: of Montreal. In fact, the track might as well be an homage to Kevin Barnes, including the title, reminiscent of many of his song titles.
It really is a minor setback though, not enough to hurt the overall flow of the album, and, other than its criminally short length, it’s difficult to come up with much more criticism. The best tracks, such as the ones described above or “It All Began With a Burst” tell fantastical tales that come off as fresh and exciting. Kishi Bashi demonstrates the mastery of an experienced musician despite branching off on his first solo effort, and the risks he takes prove to be entirely worth it. There’s a reason we named him One To Watch, and works like “151a” prove that a worthy prediction. - Listen Before You Buy