Check the Wikipedia entry for the genre of progressive rock music and it quotes John Covach who explained it as an “attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility“. The genre certainly aimed for a grander scale and size with their designs, pulling just as much influence from classical music and opera than it did rock. Over-sized, esoteric pieces were written, often going on for exceptionally long durations, making minutes seem like hours, as they twiddled knobs on their new synthesizers and self-indulged just as much in the studio as they did on stage. Their aim was to draw on diverse influences and create new themes. They say the genre’s roads lead you back to albums, such as The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, or Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Both of those albums seemed to be produced during a period in which the protagonists discovered a love of psychedelic drugs, which fits the self-indulgent, meandering nature of the genre, but it’s that latter album which seems to start a road that, decades later, actually leads us to today’s recommendation.
Kishi Bashi (actually known best as K Ishibashi, one of the founding members from the New York band Jupiter One) is an experimental musician trying his hand at something very new. You might consider a lot of the 20th and 21st century’s music to comprise of two key instruments; either the piano, or the guitar. Well, this solo artist, (born in Seattle, but now an East Coast-based American of Japanese descent), has left those two instruments virtually alone and based his debut album around the strings of the violin, leading to some rather remarkable and original results. Indeed, has he just invented ‘prog pop’? When you consider the likes of Regina Spector (someone he’s known to have played alongside), or Bjork at her most adventurous, among other purveyors of very grand, left-field pop, then perhaps not, but his work has an original feel to it’s construction. Here is an artist stretching out beyond the standard boundaries, by creating an avant-garde pop album, full of the significant genes once found in progressive rock, for at it’s heart it’s conceptual and abstract. That’s not to suggest he’s forgotten the melodies and beats, which is where he has done well to keep open all channels to Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds.
Looking back he first seemed to come into his own as a solo artist last May when he released his debut EP, Room For Dream, a title that does well to describe both his expansive soundscapes and his music’s dreamlike qualities. Two of the songs on this four-track EP (Manchester and Bright Whites) actually appear on the new debut album, 151a, which finally arrived in the last few days on the Joyful Noise label. It’s an album that leaves you with a warmer glow than from when you started. It has a sense of positivity and uplift about it. This isn’t so much the Dark Side Of The Moon, more it’s focus would in fact seem to be the lighter side. He played and produced the entire album himself, showing us that this is a multi-instrumentalist full of talent and ability, as well as ideas. It’s an album for your quieter Sundays, where you’re happy to simply sit and think whilst enjoying the sun bursting in through the window. Allow his soft under-stated voice to take you on the album’s journey, much in the same way Conor Oberst or Art Garfunkel used to do so beautifully.
It’s an unrestricted imagination that is laid out on this album, often broad in scale and scope. However, he can switch from one end of the spectrum to the other too, as there’s sometimes a twee scale to some of his work, delivering soft, playful songs, much like those we find with Of Montreal. This is a band that he’s been closely linked with, having collaborated on their album, Paralytic Stalks, as well heading out on tour around Europe with them this week. (In fact, for those of you based in this blog’s local city of Brighton, you can see his support slot at the Concorde 2 venue on April 26th). As with the comparative prog rock genre, his music will no doubt be an extraordinary show when performed live. We think he’s successfully managed to elevate pop to the desired levels of artistic credibility that allow us to claim it as prog pop and it’s a joy to have discovered. Originality is always a cause to celebrate in a world that so often struggles to find it, but for being both original and ambitious whilst still filling his work with accessible sunshine we can all be grateful. We all need sunshine, right? Well, this is an album that virtually opens your lounge curtains for you. To paraphrase the wonderful repeated line found in his tune, Manchester, here is a man whose unique take on pop has allowed him to create music that hasn’t felt this alive in a long time. (MB)
KISHI BASHI – IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST
KISHI BASHI – MANCHESTER
KISHI BASHI – BRIGHT WHITES