Kaoru Ishibashi is not a man afraid of grand ideas. A musical Renaissance man, Ishibashi plays the violin, writes and sings his own songs. In the past he’s toured with Regina Spektor and is a regular member of Atlanta, Georgia compatriots Of Montreal. His debut, 151a, was a surprise underground hit, filled with exuberant energy and endless creativity. His latest effort Lighght is both challenging and almost hysterically joyful in equal measure.
Listening to Lighght is like embarking on a spiritual adventure; you never quite know where Kishi Bashi will turn next, thanks to the record employing a wholeheartedly whimsical attitude commonly associated with Animal Collective. Like his contemporaries in Of Montreal, Kishi Bashi produces wonderfully off-kilter pop with a distinctly intelligent edge. ‘Philosophize In It! Chemacalize In It!’ is an up-tempo earworm featuring punctuations of Ishibashi’s virtuoso violin style, sing-along falsetto vocals and powerful beats. Nearly every song – even the interludes that last less than a minute – are filled to the brim with an intense amount of vigor and dynamism, making the album as a whole feel like an epic ride on a rollercoaster. On first listen, the whole album can feel overwhelming and even exhausting, as it never slows down the pace. But listening to the string arrangements and the sheer amount of joy that Kishi Bashi places into every one of the tracks means you stick with it: despite its maximalist attitude towards off-pop, it’s also intriguing and unique enough to warrant repeated spins.
There is some occasional respite in the musical textures of ‘Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her,’ as the track begins in a more tempered fashion and Ishibashi singing in an uncharacteristically low register. Elsewhere, ‘Q&A’ offers the best opportunity to pause for breath, the acoustic ballad still filled with complex melody but performed softly enough to not be overbearing. These more intimate moments provide relief but without ever feeling out of place on the otherwise bombastic LP, demonstrating Ishibashi’s ability to weave a cohesive tapestry out of disparate ideas.
The ultimate joy of Lighght lies in its teasing, playful attitude towards the English language. Even a cursory glance at the song titles suggest that Ishibashi enjoys experimenting with words: ‘The Ballad of Mr. Steak,’ ‘Once Upon A Lucid Dream (In Afrikaans)’, ‘Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her’… It is deeply reminiscent of Joanna Newsom (whose artwork for Ys also bears a striking resemblance to the faux-Medieval pomp of Lighght’s cover). Kishi Bashi enjoys weaving surreal tales about unusual subjects. ‘The Ballad of Mr. Steak’ is essentially an elegy and celebration to a dead cow, with Ishibashi singing ‘Oooh Mr. Steak, you’re grade A!/ He came to me in a package of delight, every other meal paled in his shadow.’ The lyrics may seem absurdist but they are an integral piece of Kish Bashi’s musical ideology. The words he crafts on this album sum up the slanted take on life and pop music that shrouds the man but most of all they simply encapsulate the essence of sheer fun.
Lighght stands out as a potential contender for 2014’s best off-kilter pop record. Ishibashi laughs in the face of the notion of the ‘difficult second album’ by producing an LP that is unashamedly playful and uniquely endearing.