In his second full-length solo album, Kishi Bashi (Kaoru Ishibashi) largely continues the work he started in his 2012 debut, 151a. Though Lighght does not really contain catchy and directed stand-alone songs like his debut’s “Bright Whites,” the album is packed with his characteristic cleverness, innovation, and uplifting vibes.
Lighght, like Kishi Bashi’s past efforts, showcases his creative approach to orchestrating songs, as he frequently weaves fast-paced violin strokes with synths, poppy percussion, and light melodies. He starts the album with “Debut-Impromptu,” which sounds just as its title suggests it might. The song kicks the album off with frenzied string clusters, increasing in intensity for the short duration of the track before quickly tapering off to lead into “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!”
The beginning of “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” sets the song up to sound like it might be a structured foundational single for the album. But then Kishi Bashi pulls the rug out from under the listener as he interrupts the movement of the track with what seems like more string improvisation and whimsical sounds, causing the song to feel strongly reminiscent of his debut work, including the song “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons.” He then picks the structure of the song back up, producing an organically uplifting mood.
In a way, the album could be compared to some of Andrew Bird’s work, but with a heavier emphasis on pop and cheeriness. Kishi Bashi effortlessly combines innovative and proficient string-playing with rock/pop tempos, and this combination honestly makes it difficult to resist smiling and nodding along with the music. At times, his lyrics are almost too goofy to appreciate, such as “Mr. Steak, he’s such a bachelor at heart. He never met another cut that likes to booty-booty shakey-shake” on “The Ballad of Mr. Steak.” Kishi Bashi’s tendency to sing out such lyrics in high-pitched vocal bursts only adds to the occasional sense of ridiculousness, but his quirkiness manages to make the music more enjoyable, rather than irritating. He gives the sense that he’s expressing himself as genuinely as possible; listeners have the choice of whether or not to respect Kishi Bashi’s delivery, though the impression of sincerity makes it tempting to give his whimsies that respect.
Even with the heavily crafted elements of the album, Kishi Bashi is not afraid to strip things down at certain points. For example, near the end of “Carry on Phenomenon,” he pulls back all instrumentation and offers only harmonized vocals for a few seconds, before bringing an acoustic guitar back in, followed by the other backing instruments. These changes occur so quickly that they do not interrupt the momentum of the song. Instead, they draw closer attention to the music, and keep the album interesting. Also, despite his uplifting melodies, Kishi Bashi is willing to delve into sensitive viewpoints, sometimes expressing frustration through his lyrics. On “Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her,” he sings, “The years have flown fast, but then who’s counting. The war has been won, but there’s few left standing…Critically acclaimed but sadly underrated, fortune definitely favored us but no one celebrated. Our wits were splitting at their ends.” These lyrics could be attributed solely to the context of the song’s narrative, but they can also be taken as Kishi Bashi’s reflection of the mixed reception he was given for his debut. Many critics who wrote about him in the past offered bright reviews, but he has yet to reach wider audiences, despite the relative digestibility of his music.
The album provides cerebral and semi-mystic tones, later on, with “Once Upon a Lucid Dream (in Afrikaans),” which opens with simple but sustained chords, before breaking into a chaotically sped instrumental melody. It builds up in this way for a little over a minute, before busting out as a synth-backed solid rock song. He continues this paradoxical tone of simultaneous otherworldliness and instrumental lucidity with the album’s seven-minute conclusion, “In Fantasia.” The song carries the gentleness of a lullaby, but the layered sounds and persistent tempo keep the song interesting, and the softness does not necessarily translate to weakness. “In Fantasia” provides a beautiful end to the charismatic album, and reinforces Lighght’s innovative characteristics without overdoing the experimentation.
Key Tracks: “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” “Q&A,” “Once Upon a Lucid Dream (in Afrikaans)”
RIYL: of Montreal, tUnE-yArDs, Panda Bear