On his new album, Sonderlust, Kishi Bashi reaches out more than he has ever done so before – which is a feat in itself for an artist that has always had plenty of points of access. On his third album to date he tries to take in the bigger picture, questioning “everything about what it means to love and desire.” It’s in the title too: Sonder refers to the realization that every person around you is living as rich and complicated a life as you are. Consequently Sonderlust addresses the big feelings that wrap us up together as human beings, filling lyrics with sentiments that feel drawn from a series of different encounters of love across the world.
Love was addressed on Kishi Bashi’s last album too. On Lighght he seemed to detail the process of falling in love, analysing everything from chemical reactions to the surreal dreams about where a relationship is starting to crack. Here Kishi Bashi – real name Kaoru Ishibashi – reaches out more, singing for the masses and celebrating how complex our emotions are. On “Hey Big Star” he goes galactic for his metaphor: “Hey big star, you shine too bright I’m in love with you / Can you call me tonight? / You swept me away in your blinding sun / And we’ll melt someday into each other.” On closing track “Honeybody” Ishibashi is arguably at his most jubilant ever, perky with a Caribbean twist in his vocal delivery; he seems to be addressing people on the street as he soaks up a ray of positivity. “Oh Honeybody, whatcha doing Sunday? / Maybe sipping a Coca Cola with me, babe?,” he asks with an perky energy that’s impossible to resist.
However, to analyse everything about love and desire requires flipping the coin. While there may be plenty of upbeat numbers that seem to capture that squishy feeling of joy when you find new love, there’s laments and explorations about infidelity and the sincerity of certain love. On the rain-soaked “Can’t Let Go, Juno” Ishibashi ponders the idea of falling into the arms of another. “We can never be together unless we do a deed we can’t undo…we could be right, but we could be so wrong,” he sings, his voice unadorned but affirmative come the chorus when he asks, “If you loved her, would you fake it?” He paints a sorrowful picture that speaks to the Millennial generation as much as it does to anyone who has sat by the phone waiting for a call: “Every time my phone lights up / My heart keeps skipping enough to give up,” he sings, defeated in tone. “Flame On Flame (A Slow Dirge)” calls to “bring on the rain”, and it sounds like the summoning has happened, Ishibashi bringing to mind a man wandering city streets alone during a thunderstorm.
Elsewhere on “Why Don’t You Answer Me” the titular question is posed in the sake of reconciliation; “Hey, before there were three, there was one,” he explains without feeding the listener too much detail. The stories of heartbreak and regret are there, and despite there never being too many specifics, they still cut deep thanks to a sorrowful delivery and a backdrop of music that heightens the poignancy of the words without making them overly cinematic.
Indeed the music is the main point of focus, despite the clear and consistent theme running through the record. With production help from Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, Ishibashi creates a wonderful sound world here that refines his approach even moreso. The same elements are still present as before – violin loops, pitch-shifted vocals, big, friendly acoustic strums – but here they are condensed and combined with backdrops that are rich and often gorgeous without ever coming off as overstuffed. There’s detail to be found for those wanting to explore (the layers of ukulele, pizzicato violin, and pitch-shifted, cut up vocals on opening track “m’lover”; the intricate drum patter on “Can’t Let Go, Juno”), but also plenty of surface material that’ll grab anyone’s attention, like the strobe light synths on “Ode To My Next Life”, or the seismic scale of “Statues In A Gallery” that’s positively bombastic and thunderous at its most thrilling moments.
What makes Sonderlust such a definite delight is how Ishibashi also manages to bleed and blend in a plethora of influences into his music so seamlessly. Highlight “Hey Big Star” marries those aforementioned big, open acoustic strums to grinding synths, and the result is impossible not to enjoy, proving that after “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” Ishibashi still has the ability to get you dancing. “Say Yeah” is perhaps the standout on the album, beginning on trickling Nintendo-esque synths, regal sweeps of violin, and autoharp. It soon flourishes outwards and before you realise it you’re enjoying a pan pipe solo that only gets better when Ishibashi’s violin starts harmonizing with it. There’s more to it than the continental touch, though; listen carefully and you’ll also find marks form 70s Bee Gees disco funk in the strutting and swaggering bass line. Sometimes just the intros are fine pieces in themselves, most notably the near enough Disney-esque string movement at the start of “Honeybody”.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about Sonderlust is that it all sounds like it comes so casually to Ishibashi. He might detail in the press release about having to find new approaches to his musical creation, but frankly he makes Sonderlust sound effortless at the best of times, whether he’s transcending genres, mining his own sorrow, or creating a magnificent pop-ready grandeur. It’s impossible to find a misstep on Sonderlust, each track having something very individual to offer while also keeping within the aforementioned thematic arc. It’s also easy to argue that Sonderlust is the finest record by Ishibashi to date. He’s progressing and moving forward without alienation (even though he sounds almost like a different person across a few tracks here), and he also has truly set himself apart from his peers, like Andrew Bird and Owen Pallett. There are now features that feel idiosyncratic to Ishibashi; his style of using violin and vocal loops feels very much like his own, and that’s another reason why Sonderlust is such a satisfying listen. He’s making strides in his career, ability, and style; he moves away from trying to limit and simply replicate himself. By reaching out more he has made himself even better a musician.