One can be exposed to a lot of interesting music in their lifetime and still never stumble upon something quite as sublimely quirky as Kishi Bashi. Given that the sticker on the front of his album read ‘For fans of Animal Collective, MGMT and Flaming Lips’, three bands I wouldn’t deign to listen to on an average day, I didn’t have high hopes for this thing. But then Kishi Bashi isn’t just some guy that NPR loves, he’s a super-talented, multi-faceted indie masterpiece, who comes with his own set of credentials quite apart from the groups he’s supposed to sound like. The orchestral bits come from Of Montreal, the weird-pop collective of which he is a member, and the alt-pop sensibility is likely channelled through Regina Spektor, with whom he tours. The Japanese-American has until this moment perhaps been known more for his violin skills than his singing, but that’s going to change pretty quickly. His debut record, 151a, was something I could not stop playing for weeks after I got past that sticker. It’s so lush and textured that you hear something new every time you take it for a ride, and much of that sound comes from looped violins and other instruments which Bashi is adept at manipulating for his own purposes. It’s really great stuff, even moreso when you find out that this guy was born in Seattle. Which is the town that made grunge famous.
Kishi Bashi funded part of this record through Kickstarter in a similar vein to Amanda Palmer and Ben Folds’ recent experiments in creating art with the support of fans instead of a label. Unlike both of those aforementioned acts’ latest efforts, his actually sounds like something you’d want to listen to even if you weren’t being asked to buy into it. ‘It All Began With A Burst’ is but one of a handful of absolutely glorious pieces of writing that combines indie-rock structures with oriental influences and a healthy dose of whimsy. Many of these chords are foreign to the Western ear, but Bashi’s voice and arrangement allows him to navigate this potential trouble spot smoothly, a fact increased when you consider how many different effects pedals he seems to have going at once. His violin sighs like a contented porpoise, arcs and bows like a wandering whale and coos like any other sea mammal you feel like referencing here. Here is an instrument taken to it’s nth degree; truly experimental and yet totally listenable. Many of the techniques Bashi uses are typically found only in classical writing, but he’s managed to implement them pretty solidly here.
‘It All Began With A Burst’ is perhaps the coolest Shins song James Mercer never wrote. Bashi even sounds like him when he sings, that same urgency in his tenor as he goes for the high notes, over a sea of handclaps and complex vocal harmonies. Once he adds in that limber bass line and turns it into a song proper, all the extra bells and whistles become bonus window dressing, because it’s impossible not to be swept up by the flow of the melody and the way the multi-tracked strings are so well-processed that they sound like synth pads. When Bashi drops out of the beat, he’s got this perfect mass of strings to fall back on, so the energy doesn’t abate for a second. The last repeat of the A section is particularly impressive, as the lead violin matches what appears to be an operatic ostinato. It only lasts for about five seconds, but it will send proper shivers down your spine. The only other act with this much scope I’ve heard in the last few years has been Newcastle’s Seabellies. Kishi Bashi is a rare and wonderful thing; smart, audacious and happy. You can’t ask for more than that from your new favourite band.
Kishi Bashi – ‘It All Began With A Burst’