Sunday, April 15, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Kishi Bashi - 151a

By Steve Jones.

Kishi Bashi is the nom de guerre of K Ishibashi, a founding member of the band Jupiter One and a violinist who has worked with such acts as of Montreal, Sondre Lerche, Regina Spektor.  151a is his debut solo record on Joyful Noise Recordings (and you can listen to it on his Bandcamp right now!).

Ishibashi does a lot of things on this album that appeal quite nicely to my biases.  151a is a richly arranged collection of diverse song styles which could be lumped gracelessly under the label "baroque pop."  The sounds and melodies are catchy and bright, and any fan of albums like Patrick Wolf's The Magic Position, Shugo Tokumaru's Exit, or pretty much anything from Stars will find a lot to enjoy in this easily digestible collection of 9 songs.  For me, however, this album falls a little short.  I'm not 100% sure why, and it is by no means terrible in any sense, but it's lacking in the kind of punch I look for in my baroque pop.

I do like the first track, "Intro / Pathos, Pathos," which begins with some pretty strings, evolves into some Animal Collective-esque yelping, and reveals a nicely catchy verse which is unfortunately played just once.  "Manchester" is probably Ishibashi's most popular track, but it feels plodding to me, even when the poppier moments of the track come to the forefront.  The production and arrangement are wonderful, but the song itself doesn't excite me.  "Bright Whites," on the other hand, melds the sounds of Oorutaichian appropriated Indonesian folk with the kind of bright infectiousness you can find only on the best indie pop records.  It's easily the album's highlight.

The rest of it is pleasant, but a tad unremarkable, ranging from more Animal Collective emulations ("It All Began with a Burst," "Chester's Burst over the Hamptons" [although this latter one ends with one great synth solo]) to the Sufjan Stevens school of quiet balladry ("Wonder Woman, Wonder Me").

I think the fact I keep making comparisons to all of these different artists reveals what my biggest problem with 151a is.  It has a wonderfully diverse sound, but these nine tracks don't really give me a good idea of what Kishi Bashi's sound is like--of what the unifying voice behind this music is.  I know it's there, but I'm not finding it through these dense arrangements and somewhat derivative songwriting.  The potential is there, and I can hear it especially in the way Ishibashi pieces together sounds in a glistening, kaleidoscopic fashion, but I think he needs more time to find his own style.

151a should be loved by people who are a lot less jaded with indie pop than I am, which I would wager includes most people.  While I do enjoy it, I am looking forward more so to what will come next from Kishi Bashi.

Score: Strong 6

If you don't feel like clicking the link above, you can stream the album RIGHT HERE:

(Steve Jones is arbitrarily difficult to please. You can find further evidence of this on his Twitter @vestenet.)

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