Sometimes, I find myself stuck in a musical rut of sorts. It’s not because I get tired of music — no, never ever ever say such a thing. But rather, I become stubbornly stuck in a genre, unwilling to listen to anything that deems itself “fun synth ’80s dream pop!” Sometimes, I get burnt out by the onslaught of new music; there are just so many bands, all trying to out-weird the other while managing to sound exactly the freaking same.
I digress. You’re not here to read my rants about the glut of good-but-not-great music out there today. You’re here to listen to Kishi Bashi, a decidedly unconventional musician whose boundary breaking tendencies manage to remain interesting, enjoyable, listenable, and captivating all at once. And how his debut album, 151a, has inspired me to shake of the shrouds of cranky music critic and straight up get happy about some new, new-sounding music.
Let’s start with that aura of positivity. 151a is rife with it, from opening track “Intro/Pathos Pathos” to the folk-rock clap happy rhythms embedded in layers of vocals in the single “Bright Whites.” This is prog-rock for the feel good set, deeply thoughtful and introspective pop music with a beat you can dance to. It’s a pretty brilliant combination — so often, the most carefully constructed music loses it’s joy, while music made purely for pleasure quickly becomes vapid.
Kishi Bashi, who played and produced the entire album himself, takes a light hand on these tracks, making transitions feel seamless while slyly revealing that there is, indeed, a magic trick at play here — he is the clever magician who wants you to know that he’s having as good of a time as you are.
There are so many auditory paths to follow on this album — the exuberant vocals, the swell of strings, the crisp, driving synth of percussion. Or, you can sit back and listen to the album as a narrative whole, which, frankly, is the best way to go about it. Still, the twists and turns that 151a presents makes every listen feel like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Lucky for you, each path seems to lead to a happy ending.