The latest project from singer and multi-instrumentalist Kaoru Ishibashi (Kishi Bashi) is “Sonderlust,” a smooth journey of love and loss that borrows conventions of genres from indie rock to ’80s synth pop. With lush string arrangements and groovy synth basslines throughout, the album has an ethereal flavor that is grounded by catchy melodies and solid production.
Opening the tracklist is “m’lover,” a love song that starts with a banjo riff reminiscent of American Authors before breaking into a Coldplay-esque alternative groove that carries the song through to the end. In it, Kishi Bashi longs for the experience of having a lover to share experiences and time with, and the joyful chords and arrangement suit the lyrics well.
Following the first track is “Hey Big Star,” a more conventional pop song that uses an apt celestial metaphor to describe an unrequited love and its effect. “Say Yeah” starts with a wonky synth line accompanied by some ’80s string arrangements and eventually evolves into a nu-disco jam with falsetto singing and vocal chops that give it a unique character.
As the album progresses, Kishi Bashi delves deeper into electronic territory with tracks like “Can’t Let Go, Juno,” an electro-pop song that discusses the lengths to which one will go to get or maintain love. One of the musical highlights of the entire album is “Ode to My Next Life,” an intense nu-disco track that begins with some epic string arrangements and synth hits that transition into a driving groove led by arpeggiators, accompanied by grandiose lyrics about this life and the next. The vocal melodies resemble classic ABBA, while the instrumentation borrows heavily from Daft Punk’s lexicon of tight synthesizer arrangement and programming.
On “Who’d You Kill,” Kishi Bashi strips down the music somewhat to make way for a blues jam driven by a funky Rhodes piano and a tight and dry drum track. As one of the more sonically conventional songs on the record, “Who’d You Kill” is a less adventurous track that is outshined by the songs around it, but it’s a passable joint nonetheless. “Statues in a Gallery” has Kishi Bashi returning to the nu-disco flavor that undergirds the whole record, albeit with more wonky vocal manipulations and sampling work that gives it a distinctive sound.
In its final three tracks, “Sonderlust” continues with its interesting mix of electronic elements and lofty lyrical ambitions. “Flame on Flame (a Slow Dirge)” blends M83 influence with layered vocal harmonies while slowing the tempo and creating a solid groove. The closing track is “Honeybody,” which eschews the stadium drums normally present throughout the project for a more subtle pop romp that closes off on a happy note.
While “Sonderlust” has many traits that make it a unique experience, its usage of familiar chord progressions and rhythms as well as rather basic lyrics keeps it firmly in pop territory, which might be off-putting to some. However, if that can be overlooked, the project is a largely upbeat adventure through the stages of love and the experiences it entails. The most glaring flaw the album has would be Kishi Bashi’s rather bland vocals, and while the layering and harmonies can mask it to an extent, his voice isn’t the best or most unique.
The album is lyrically unambitious, and there are no songs that strike as having unique or compelling lyrics. Instead the lyrical work is largely adequate and not as interesting as the creative manipulation of the music itself. “Sonderlust” is a solid pop album that strays from some conventions while grasping firmly to others, a trait that is ultimately its greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness.
Tracks: “Say Yeah,” “Ode to My Next Life”
If you like: Fun., American Authors, M83
Label: Joyful Noise