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Review: ‘Sonderlust’ – Kishi Bassi

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Singer/musician/violinist/keyboardist Kaoru Ishibashi, also known as Kishi Bashi, dropped his third album, Sonderlust, on Sept. 16, and the result is an incredibly cohesive album that shows clear growth and maturation from his previous work.

His two earlier albums, 2012’s 151a and 2014’s Lighght, initially caught my attention with their bizarre but enthralling mixtures of synth-driven experimentation, catchy violin-filled hooks, and the occasional almost-saccharine acoustic ballads. Lighght in particular contained some tracks – the ELO-esque “Carry On Phenomenon” especially — that have stayed on my playlists since their release, but it also contained some more bizarre, experimental tunes, such as multiple violin interludes that did not seem to serve much of a purpose other than for padding. In Sonderlust, the quality is much more consistent, and although that results in fewer truly amazing songs, it also means much less fodder.

On Kishi Bashi’s official website, Sonderlust is described as “an album forged through heartbreak.” The vast majority of songs on the album were inspired by a period of separation he went through with his partner, causing the lyrics to be much more inspired by his feelings this time around as opposed to the more cryptic lyrics and themes of 151a and Lighght. Even the song titles are much more subdued this time around: “Why Don’t You Answer Me,” “Who’d You Kill,” “Say Yeah” as opposed to “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” and “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons.” Now, I was a huge fan of Kishi Bashi’s more bizarre works as well since I can always appreciate that level of absurdity in music, but seeing an artist I’ve been familiar with who has had a very concrete, distinct style choose to go in new directions musically is a satisfying feeling.

The album opens with the cheerful “M’Lover,” which is probably the happiest the album gets. This song conveys the excitement and blind optimism of a new relationship, and the following track “Hey Big Star” continues this theme. As the album goes on, themes shift to more of a dying relationship, as evidenced by the electronic-tinged “Can’t Let Go, Juno,” with the opening lyrics “Well it’s a new day / another full of heartbreak.” The final track of the album, “Honeybody,” interestingly goes back to a happy and optimistic mood, with lyrics conveying childlike wonder and the music itself having a vaguely Caribbean influence. Overall, this vulnerability that Kishi Bashi is able to convey helps the album feel much more genuine and personal.

The lyrics are not the only highlight of the album, however, and I would be lying if I said that I paid attention to the lyrics before the music itself. The music feels electronic and new at first, but the continued use of violins and other unconventional instruments (“Say Yeah” features a flute solo) gives it a more unique touch. “Ode to My Next Life” is one of the clear highlights, featuring a string solo at the beginning that quickly explodes into a powerful cacophony of synths. Similarly, “Why Don’t You Answer Me” is one of the more emotional songs of the bunch, and the instrumental captures that perfectly, with a mix of keyboards and harmonies creating a melancholy but still jam-worthy atmosphere.

I had high hopes for Sonderlust, and it did not disappoint. Instead of picking out 3-4 songs I adore, listening to them over and over, and ignoring the rest of the songs like I did with Kishi Bashi’s previous two albums, I have found myself being able to listen to the whole album start to finish, and loving it. With an impressively cohesive sound, great lyrics and interesting instrumentation, this is easily Kishi Bashi’s best work.

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