SONDERLUST by Kishi Bashi
Genre: Chamber Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Hey Big Star,” “Say Yeah,” “Can’t Let Go, Juno,” “Statues in a Gallery,” “Honeybody”
It is not abnormal to imagine antiquity as the graying, dusty dilapidation of grandma’s porcelain trinkets and cat-scratched, floral loveseats. However, walking into the 13th century French gothic chapel of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, one certainly might feel awestruck at the glimmering, gold ribs of the starry ceiling and the hypnotizing refraction of light through the church’s historic, fifty-foot, stained glass windows. Over one thousand iconographic images comprise these stained glass windows, telling ancient bible stories that somehow feel as playful as a children’s book in red, blue, yellow, and green. It feels altogether sacred and archaic, yet vibrant and rejuvenated.
Following a turbulent separation with his wife, Kishi Bashi has written his third studio album SONDERLUST with the same kaleidoscopic wonder of the Sainte-Chapelle chapel. Retelling a story of blossoming love, heartbreak, soul-searching, and reconciliation that is as archetypal to the history of human relationships as the New and Old Testament stories depicted in the chapel’s stained glass, Kishi filters the memoir of SONDERLUST through effervescent, violin-tinged electronica, making the age-old narrative deeply personal and full of sonic stupefaction.
Having been emotionally and creatively stifled, Kishi Bashi gave up his traditional songwriting process of violin looping, and instead sought the production insight of Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear. Taylor’s influence is certainly heard: While the album retains his quintessential chamber psychedelia, Kishi’s style on SONDERLUST leans towards prog rock and nu-disco sensibilities that refocus our attention on his aptitude for radiant danceability and accessible lyrical narration, which is a refreshing and organic evolution from his last two albums, 151A and LIGHGHT.
The album opener “M’lover” begins with a humble, trickling violin progression, reminiscent of his earlier works, but it’s not long until the track escalates into an ebullient chorus of galvanic bass drum and glistening synthesizers. He still manages a short but sinuous violin solo on this track, which is a satisfying nod to Kishi’s skeleton as we absorb the qualia of SONDERLUST’s new flesh.
Fans of Electric Light Orchestra and The Move will be nostalgic listening to tracks like “Hey Big Star” and “Why Don’t You Answer Me,” backed by simple, punchy beats and steady acoustic guitar. In true Kishi Bashi fashion, these tracks are taken on a cosmic journey with glittering synths that shoot through the atmosphere like beams of Technicolor light. Never shying away from cinematic impulses, the SONDERLUST rocket ship blasts full-steam on “Ode to My Next Life” — Kishi coos in a humble falsetto as the violin builds in tempo and anxiety, like slowly climbing the first hill on Space Mountain. Arpeggiated synths pulse over a beat that sometimes deviates into its own capricious solo — an understandable instinct when he restlessly laments, “Many have failed, but I said I would be with you wherever you go / You made a harrowing foe / This is the fantasy / That I dream.”
Zipping through the galaxy sometimes requires a moment to wipe the sweat from your forehead between all the shimmying and gyrating. If you don’t take a pit-stop at the disco-Kirby-Dreamland trip of “Say Yeah,” it’s because of a scintillating flute solo that would even make Herbie Mann shuffle his feet. Or, you might find your hips suddenly slow-grinding to the steamy, ravenous groove “Who’d You Kill,” if you haven’t already booked a motel suite where the Jacuzzi tub is in the shape of a martini glass. Either way, it’s a balanced cool down before the ecstatically triumphant and layered synth pop track “Statues in a Gallery.” A driving drumbeat whisks the listener through interpolated vocal samples that pitch up and down quicker than you can sing, “Did you think I could live forever / Without anyone to love again? / Here I am, so let’s turn it on.”
SONDERLUST’s resolve comes full circle with the album closer “Honeybody” — a poppy and buoyant sample backed by percussive handclaps and muted synth-organs. As Kishi sweetly “oohs,” he innocently invites his loved one to sip Coca-Cola and play assorted board games with him on a Sunday, all before tapering into a luxuriously exultant violin outro. If this track existed in the chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, it would be a sunset shimmering through the stained glass, and Kishi would be kneeling at the altar kissing his wife’s feet. Nine tracks ago, he was scrutinizing his relationship to monogamy’s greatest eternal predicament. Now, Kishi is jubilantly reconciling the fact that even though many people have been through this age-old struggle before, they all experience it in their own richly complex way. And that’s something worth singing about.