The sign of a truly great artist is their ability to reinvent themself or their sound. How many chameleonic personas did David Bowie adopt during his career? Fans of indie pop artist/violin virtuoso Kishi Bashi are noticing a similar trend. The songs on his latest album, Sonderlust, bear little resemblance to his first two solo releases.
His debut, 151a, and its 2014 follow-up, Lighght, both featured more indie-leaning, violin loops and vocal effects. The genre of Sonderlust, however, is impossible to define. Its hues change – often drastically – from one song to the next. You’ll get disco beats in one song and electronic flourishes in a minor-key ballad on another. While the soaring pop brilliance of “Carry On Phenomenon” (my personal favorite from Lighght) is still present, this album delves deeper into his innermost thoughts. Sonderlust is easily Kishi Bashi’s most adventurous and most personal effort yet.
Even the hues of the artwork indicate a shift in tone. If his first two albums’ cover art represent revitalizing spring and summer seasons, then Sonderlust is his autumn. The seasonal changes of life (including the stresses of marriage, touring, and keeping the creativity fires stoked) all play a part in shaping these 10 songs. Kishi Bashi is more introspective here, and it is as his most unguarded that we find previously unrevealed depths. This album, as such, is packed with revelatory glimpses into the heart and soul of the artist, plus plenty of dance grooves. A more winning combination will be hard to find.
“Say Yeah” – the album’s lead single – is one we featured in our July 16th Saturday Sampler. Kishi Bashi previewed snippets of this song in live Periscope sessions during the writing and recording phase. The finished result is rapturous, and time has not tempered our appreciation of its infectious melodies. Its disco-inspired soundscapes continue on “Ode to My Next Life”. The minute-plus intro heralds a cosmic voyage through starry skies to another galaxy of sound. He is breaking new barriers with this one. “Ode to My Next Life” does have some of the EDM influences he mentioned when I talked to him last summer. He hinted that this album would have a more electronic feel, an idea that surprised many fans.
That vibe is present on as well as on “Can’t Let Go, Juno”, which more of an electro-pop fusion of M83, Miike Snow, and Tycho than Skrillex. Irresistible is an understatement.
Those modern influences revert to vintage vibes on the album’s second half. You’ll feel you’ve time-traveled back to the ‘70s on “Who’d You Kill” thanks to its funky synths. Equal parts Herbie Hancock and Pink Floyd (“Have a Cigar” looms large), this is one of the album’s standout tracks. The sonic trip continues on “Flame on Flame (a Slow Dirge)” as it examines interpersonal relationships. The darker tone of this track takes on greater significance when you realize its lonely vibe was inspired by separation. The repeated phrases “Learn to love the rain / Learn to fight the pain” make this song all the more relatable.
Likewise, the album is Kishi Bashi’s most accessible to date. The former Of Montreal member, however, has not sacrificed innovation and creativity to appeal to a wider audience. He has instead extended himself beyond his instrumental and symphonic leanings to offer a kaleidoscope of sound. The result is a fantastic album by an artist who one day will need no introduction.
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