Kishi Bashi - Sonderlust

Kishi Bashi manages to incorporate classical elements of music into a wonderland of synths and pop beats in their newest album Sonderlust. Lead vocalist and frontman Kaoru Ishibashi, previously a member of Of Montreal, has a high, airy voice that accompanies sweeping melodies. This album is very similar to their previous release, Lighght, with more emphasis on traditional pop.


‘M’lover’ starts the album with ukulele and poetic lyrics sung dramatically. Immediately, you feel like you’re in some kind of magical far away land where birds sing in unison and the sun is always shining. String choruses are brought in at the triumphant outro, blending well with the pop-driven beat. The next few songs have an underlying disco vibe that highlights the use of multiple vocal layers. The keyboard and synths are reminiscent of Hot Chip, but without the techno-spin. Strange sounds pop-up every now and then; old school video game samples, egg shakers, funky synth leads. The delicate, intricate flute solo in ‘Say Yeah’ is executed to perfection, demonstrating the diversity of instruments used in the album.


The album slows with ‘Can’t Let Go, Juno’ where the vibe turns a little more serious. The drums have an old-school sound that’s reminiscent of classic rock. His vocals deepen and express sadness and pain, complementing the perpetual flowing synths. Kishi Bashi’s combination of undulating strings and abrasive synths in ‘Ode to My Next Life’ suggests a dramatic storyline. There’s a moment towards the end where all the instruments come together beautifully and the vocals sound supernatural.


Strings start out the track ‘Who’d You Kill’: a dark, jazzy song that sounds like it should be the theme of a mystery series. This song feels somewhat out of place with it’s zippy organ, funky base, and sexy vocals. ‘Statues in a Gallery’ has screeching strings accompanying deep bass synths. The beat switches up making it almost feel like two different songs; the disconnect feels intentional, as if checking to make sure you’re paying attention.


The acoustic guitar in ‘Why Don’t You Answer Me’ has a deep, raw sound behind mystical synth leads. Kishi Bashi cleverly uses electronic sounds you wouldn’t expect to disrupt the vibe of the song. In ‘Flame on Flame (a Slow Dirge)’, the vocals are swinging and eerie, evoking the image of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. This dreamlike track is haunting, emphasized by the lyrics, “bring on the rain /nothing can stop the madness /flame on flame /burning us all in sadness.”


The album ends on a high note with ‘Honeybody’. At first, it sounds like a movie score with layers of strings, then suddenly turns into a clap-along pop song with catchy choruses. I appreciate Kishi Bashi’s ability to take the concept of a traditional pop song and give it a twist with strange sounds, minimalist drums, and unique synths.


In Sonderlust, Kishi Bashi combines sounds that don’t historically go together;  from sounding jazzy, to having classical pop elements, then to disco vibes, and even sometimes resembling a dramatic musical. It can feel scattered at times, but it has a very experimental approach to traditional ideas. It’s filled with an amalgam of instruments, concepts, and synths making it a unique listening experience.


by Amber Harris

Amber Harris