Review: Kishi Bashi – 151a

Location: Athens, Georgia
Genre: Experimental Indie Pop
Released: April 10, 2012
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: National Uprising – Diving For Treasure (Off The Grid)

By: Kris Kotlarik

Once in a while, I like to go “off the grid” and review albums that aren’t metal in any capacity based on the recommendations of my friends or people I come across. In this case, a woman I was talking to on a dating website asked me if I had heard of Kishi Bashi. I had not, so I decided to check out a live performance of him playing at a Seattle public radio station and was quite impressed. In terms of one man making an acoustic sound come to life with stage technology, it reminded me of Anathema‘s Danny Cavanagh and his performance at The Borderline in London two years ago, almost to the day.

The difference between the two is that Kishi Bashi, a pseudonym of Kaoru Ishibashi, is a one-man band. Playing with a violin, a golden voice and well-timed beat boxing, Ishibashi is also a singer for Jupiter One, a synth rock outfit from New York. In getting Kishi Bashi’s albums, I wanted to see if Ishibashi is as captivating in the studio as he is live. The results? In a word, yes.

Those who like Devin Townsend‘s lighter albums such as Ki, Casualties of Cool, Ghost, parts of Epicloud and its bonus disk, and perhaps even his older classics like Synchestra and Ocean Machine, should be pleased with the production on 151a. It is loaded with vocal, instrumental and electronic layers. “Manchester” is the best example of this, with a chaotic intro giving way to Ishibashi’s lovely vocals. It’s hard to describe, which is a good feeling because the music is challenging to decipher, requiring more listens. Arguably the best aspect to “Manchester” is the lyrics, in which an author writes a book but seems to deliberately hide the last page to allow the possibility for an open-ended conclusion:

The very last breath of the hero of our tale
would leave you only to guess:
Did he truly prevail in the sequel?
I guess I’ll have to write a sequel…

My favorite part’s when I die
in your arms like a movie.
It’s tragic, but now the story has its proper end.

Many of the songs have real-world lyrics; in “Wonder Woman, Wonder Me,” which sounds like a revival of the crooner era, there’s a line about Pluto being demoted as a planet and the writer is relieved following this discovery, but doesn’t know why. Perhaps it’s about worrying about something that you have no control over; if there’s only eight planets orbiting the sun instead of nine, does it really matter?

“It All Began With A Burst” has a gorgeous vocal melody that is repeated throughout the song, and the background layering bolsters it even further. “Chester’s Burst Over The Hamptons” is a short, uptempo number with an interesting synth part at the end. “Atticus, In The Desert” almost sounds like a Beatles song during their more experimental era. “I Am The Antichrist To You” and “Beat The Bright Out Of Me,” the final two tracks, are both great tracks, filled with layers. “Intro/Pathos, Pathos” is a great song in its own right with complexity that is unrivaled in this album, setting up the rest that is to come.

“Bright Whites,” which you may recognize from a Windows 8 commercial, is the least ambitious track on here. Even so, despite its accessible and rather typical Indie pop feel, it’s still a fun song with a well-crafted melody that flows with the rest of the album. That’s really the only remotely negative tidbit I can say about this album. The songs that would normally feel slow to metalheads like myself are still full of bits and pieces to keep the listener interested. As far as Indie Pop with minimal (if any) live percussion goes, this is a grandiose and ambitious album that should please most listeners.

Overall: Will engage the listener over many spins as they try to piece everything together. 

Rating: 4.5*

Bonus Thoughts: Kishi Bashi’s newest album, Lighght, released on May 13, picks up where 151a left off. It is similarly ambitious, and In Fantasia is a grandiose closer. The buildup is nowhere near as heavy in comparison to, say, the title track from Devin Townsend’s Ki, but the payoff is still rewarding.

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