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Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang News music columnist.
The emotional core of Lighght comes at the album’s midpoint on 2014’s most touching love song involving two eon-spanning deities creating and destroying the universe, “Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her.” When singer/violinist/wizard K Ishibashi — the man behind Kishi Bashi — hangs on the word “synesthesia,” the color and vibrancy of Lighght takes on a new, triumphant meaning.
Ishibashi burst onto the scene two years ago with a bolt from the blue in the form of 151a. That album was an inventive fusion of violin mastery, creative use of looping pedals and a joyous energy that felt fresh. That same energy carries over to Lighght, which explodes into color no less vivid than that of Sigur Rós or Explosions in the Sky.
The album’s title (pronounced “light”) comes from Aram Saroyan’s one-word poem that kicked off a heated national controversy over what constitutes art. Fortunately, Lighght does justice to its namesake in its brazen unconventionality. Ishibashi’s taste for avant-pop is refreshingly imaginative — lead single “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” masterfully walks the line between whimsy and serious sentiment, but it’s never anything less than happy. “Picture our wedding, it’d be summer sour and summer sweet,” Ishibashi sings over impatient drums and campfire guitar. “We’d paint the ceiling red, we’d go straight to the Greek and straight to the street.”
That feel for pop was already evident on 151a, but a stint as part of Of Montreal’s touring band helped shape it. The influences from that band’s history of pop weirdness are evident on Lighght — Kevin Barnes even plays an immediately recognizable bass on “Once Upon a Lucid Dream (in Afrikaans).” That track, along with pure pop cut “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” (“Mister Steak, you were Grade A!”) are fun, danceable slices of prog-pop in the tradition of electric light orchestra.
Ishibashi’s versatility as a songwriter and musician is on full display with Lighght. Once he has the poppier bits out of his system in the first half of the album, he opens up with a two-part suite titled “Hahaha” that shifts from Passion Pit-styled synth giggles to late-period Beatles horns to a prog/classical fusion entirely unique to Kishi Bashi. In fact, Lighght’s only weak link is “Q&A,” which is intended to be a departure from the complicated machinery of the preceding art-pop tracks, but ends up being too sparse and clichéd. The Japanese chorus is overly saccharine and the song can’t quite skirt by on charm alone, but even Lighght’s low points are eminently listenable.
The closer, “In Fantasia,” could have been equally well-served as Lighght’s opener. Ishibashi sets aside his recurring theme of simple love in favor of his other favorite lyrical subject: the painting of impossibly colorful ethereal dreamscapes. “Darkened bridges sink away into the brackishness, swirling sin into a rainbow of atrophy,” he sings in a lower tenor too often foregone for his enchanting falsetto. The focus on Ishibashi’s violin isn’t as concentrated on Lighght as it was on 151a, but when he breaks into a soaring outro more focused on invoking a mood than displaying virtuosity, the progress made between albums is clear.
Ultimately, the greatest strength of Lighght — and Ishibashi’s music in general — is it grabs you after a single listen. It’s the album equivalent of a good page-turner: When one track wraps up, the listener is already possessed by a curiosity about what Ishibashi will pull out of his magician’s hat next time. What we do know is his fans won’t be able to wait for the follow-up.