Kishi Bashi begins his first solo album, 151a, with epic prettiness; violins and all. Swelling choirs, enough to make a heart bleed, quickly fill ears with promise of near-overwhelming density. And yet, the music doesn’t take off to overly precious places, as the album’s lavish entry point becomes a party on stompy second song, “Bright Whites,” sure to be heard at college parties throughout the summer.
The strings come back often, naturally, since K. Ishibashi is a violinist (he also plays guitar, keyboards, and surely more), using the instrument to smooth the edges around the peppy percussion that peppers his pop (!). Impressively, he also produces and plays all instrumental parts on the album. Ishibashi shines as a vocalist as well, pulling off wide-ranging, whimsical melodies with flair (think Avey Tare on “Wonder Woman, Wonder Me”). A mix of Japanese and poetic English lyrics are seamlessly combined as well.
But what Ishibashi succeeds in is flouncing our expectations; turning the songs around mid-point to evoke another genre, such as when the hoedown fiddle of “Chester’s Burst Over The Hamptons” melds into a soca rhythm, only to end in 70s prog psychedelia. “Atticus in the Desert” could be a gorgeous outro for a sun-drenched 60s western, but “I Am the Antichrist” is the real emotional apex of the album. The message has changed here from ‘Dance, fools, dance!’ to ‘Cry, friends, cry!’ Near-baroque arrangements under Ishibashi’s decent falsetto build up the ballad.
K Ishibashi shows an impressive versatility on 151a, which begs the question: where will Kishi Bashi go from here? It’s a great listen, filled with beautifully arranged melodies, but soon he’ll need to set himself apart from the other sweet-voiced fiddlers.