Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Kishi Bashi - Sonderlust Review

It may not be obvious to Kishi Bashi and his fans, but the Seattle-born singer is in a very peculiar place in contemporary music. One snippet of his music would tell you just how odd it is that Bashi is not more popular, pushing a form of Art Pop that beams with unbridled zest and tall tales surrounding hopeless romantics. The one problem? He is fashionably uncool. A 40-year old man promoting the perks of chivalry. The Indie crowd neglects him for lacking maturity and introspection, something they allow only out of their aging male singers, while the Pop crowd ignores him because there's not a sappy seductress on his tunes. A conundrum, to say the least. Sonderlust, his third LP, pushes this envelope even further, as Bashi finds himself stuck at an impasse, surely contemplating a midlife crisis at the same time he and his wife of 13 years are separating. Focusing on a failing relationship while begging for forgiveness, Sonderlust, through squeaky clean Bubblegum Pop and orchestral arrangements, may be Kishi Bashi's most personal yet. With cheesy lines and archaic production running amok, Sonderlust surely won't invite a new crowd, and maybe, in his own fantasy world, Kishi Bashi prefers it that way.

On 2014's Lighght, an incredibly underrated album by the way, Kishi Bashi exploded with wondrous tales taken from the world's most varied and imaginative children. In a way, the music was created purely to lift spirits, quell nerves, and showcase just how freeing one can be regardless of age. Upon hearing Sonderlust I was dismayed that, initially, the production seemed to arise from that same place, even though Bashi's personal life was being torn apart. All it took was a simple return to Lighght to see how distinct Sonderlust is from its younger brother. The instruments are the same but the mood, the tone, the passion comes from a much more unsteady place. Structurally speaking, the same attributions can be made, as Sonderlust finds itself cherishing your prototypical Pop archetypes. The ten songs all fall in the three to four-minute span, whereas Lighght's ranged from under a minute to seven. Quality aside, the habitual nature Sonderlust presents bears the strongest bond to Bashi's personal life. In a way, his despondency shows more through the album's common man paradigm's than the lyrics and production, because Bashi's talents in the latter two have always fallen beside euphoria.

Rather than zoom in and analyze the crumbling facade that is his life, Bashi pleads, numerous times, to rekindle what once was. Two cases in particular, 'M'Lover' and 'Say Yeah,' deal directly with these tumultuous declarations. On the former he keeps it simple; "would you be my lover," he implores as if he's asking for the first time. It's not until 'Say Yeah,' the lead single, where the truth becomes clear; "all I want is one last chance as your lover, baby, we'll make it together." To longtime fans, one can easily read between the blurry lines. To outsiders, the unrequited love is campy and cute, especially when paired with the storybook flutes, violins, and pianos. It makes for an interesting paradox that, unfortunately, only rears its head on roughly half the songs. These tend to be the best moments, like the two aforementioned tracks and the wonderful star-gaze sandwiched in between them, 'Hey Big Star.' Elsewhere though, the weight of reality pulls Bashi and his normal falsetto down a few pegs, resulting in an overly dramatic dirge, as found on 'Can't Let Go, Juno' and 'Who'd You Kill,' where the singer's typically flourishing vibes run their course through pure exhaustion.

This is Sonderlust's biggest liability, in my opinion, when the music itself becomes far too serious. As a result, these tracks, along with 'Why Don't You Answer Me' and 'Flame On Flame,' become too cinematic and overproduced for their own good. While it's not necessarily a bad thing, Bashi has just always worked better in the light-hearted affairs. These bloated romanticisms dance ever so closely to cheesy 80's melodramas; think M83's Junk, just not nearly as kitschy. On the other end, even these maximalist endeavors can be appreciated through a warped sense of a bygone nostalgia. The wild, punchy nature of 'Ode To My Next Life' sounds like something I'd hear on the Neverending Story soundtrack. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up to you. Kishi Bashi's production always seems to tip-toe the line between inventive and cliche, and on Sonderlust that distinction becomes even less clear. A quick glance at its jubilant closer 'Honeybody' and you'll see why. In a certain light, it's Sonderlust's best track, with Bashi's most provocative and exciting vocal performance to date. In another light though, it's the offspring of Jimmy Buffett's 'Margaritaville' and Andy Grammer's 'Honey, I'm Good.'

That is one fine line to skip along. Yet, for the most part, Kishi Bashi stays right in the middle. Being a superior musician with a wide-range of talents will prevent him from reaching those gimmicky lows, but Sonderlust, with its obsessive look at love, learns to admire the heart within those gooey Pop hits, rather than retreat into somber Indie tropes. However, despite the appraisals I can give, Lighght is the better record. The ongoing struggles of Bashi's inner turmoil caused Sonderlust, at times, to feel dejected. Not in lyrical content but creative output, whereas Lighght was a constant journey through wild pleasure principles. The highs of both are matched though, as the happy but fearful trio of 'M'Lover,' 'Hey Big Star,' and 'Say Yeah' can easily compete with the catchy delirium of 'The Ballad Of Mr.Steak' or 'Philosophize In It! Chemicalize with It!.' And while a few moments come close, there's nothing quite like the free-for-all absurdity of Sonderlust's predecessor, an unfortunate reminder of a more pleasant time in Kishi Bashi's life. 

No comments:

Post a Comment