The initial pressing for this EP ‘Room For Dream’ was just under 1000 copies and it marked the first ever recording for Kaoru Ishibashi; performing under the pseudonym ‘Kishi Bashi’. Having emerged from the west in the late noughties, Kishi is an artist who, in a relatively short span of time, has managed to expand on the already augmenting realms of modern-music and take a well-earned seat in the hearty halls of indie rock and psychedelic pop.
Those that know his music already will likely agree that much of this Seattle-born’s success is owed to an expertise and fine-artistry for all manners of musical forms. A trained violinist with a worldly possession of euphonious props, his stage is often a procession of different instruments. Usually stringed. Always mastered. From loop pedals to keys, synthesisers to cymbals, Kishi Bashi and his travelling band wield a mythical sounding art-rock to colourise the deep and meaningful narratives he so willingly shares; stories taken from his life in America and his heritage in Japan. BUT none of this goes even halfway to explaining why this EP and his first vinyl is so special.
I feel what actually makes Kishi Bashi’s story so interesting to follow is that there is an unrelenting commitment and dedication to freely experiment wherever and whenever he can. Even in this extended play, famously a format used for bands to throw-in the cut-out, unwelcome, unfinished and unbefitting audio ventures, there is such an ambit of acoustic craft that these 5 tracks could so easily be made by 5 different artists and sundered into 5 completely different genres. Building many of his songs from the ground up (using loop-the-loop violin textures, percussive beatboxing and ghostly vocals), this fragmentation happens freely even within a 2 or 3 minute track of Kishi’s. The runtimes may not compete with upper-end Genesis or Pink Floyd experimentation but there is a psychedelic persona adopted in the chimeric constructions of his work; even when the songs are simple, short and sensical. I feel the best example of this is the lead-in to the B-Side ‘Evelyn, Summer has Arrived’. A little over halfway through and there is an effortless transition from an up-beat pop song to a celestial organ-like riff; the type I’m only used to hearing courtesy of Hans Zimmer and experiencing in zero-gravity at the cinema. Adopting a Mike Oldfield-like gallantry, it is a galactic declaration to the listener that proceeds a stabbing silence. Kishi’s violin joins… summer has arrived… and it blends back perfectly into the original tune before normality ensues. It is in these short and wholesome tangents away from traditional song-writing that has made tracks from many Prog-Rock emergences so iconic and ‘Room for Dream’ shows an artist exercising that same creative freedom so successfully. Truthfully, I wish Kishi Bashi did this even more often than he does… but I’m record skipping already.
‘Room For Dream’ was released just 1 year before his debut album ‘151a’. It was less of a testing of water and more a delve into the deep end for Kishi as an artist creatively. I was on the front-foot for finding new, exciting and abstract music in my early 20’s when I first saw him perform the introductory piece ‘Manchester’ via a cardinal sessions episode on YouTube. It was certainly new and exciting. It was even visually abstract… a singer songwriter with punky hair brazenly loop-pedalling in front of pigeons and passers-by in a park off central Cologne. The multi-instrumentalist crooned like an old rocker over his own violin flurry in an almost perfect recreation of a ‘Best of the Beatles’ take. I knew there and then that I’d found what I was looking for. Thankfully, while he has polished the aesthetics of his performance over the years, his music has never once resorted to rounding down. Just a few months later, there came ‘Bright Whites’ which battles with ‘Manchester’ for my favourite track on the vinyl. ‘Bright Whites’ was a ubiquitous single from this EP that rightfully featured on the following album as well. This song somehow slipped through my pocket holes like an old penny only to appear lingering over our campus radio while buying the bare necessities for a university night out. It is a tune that journeys along copiously on a Japanese refrain and contains some of Kishi’s most memorable (if not most difficult to memorise) lyrics to date. In a pre-release interview for ‘151a’ with Nexus Magazine, Kishi Bashi stated that the use of Japanese language in much of his song-writing was a musical instrument in itself and so the American singer’s catalogue not only greatly benefits from the radiancy permitted with variety and artistry but also international sonority. As the son of Japanese parents, Kishi proudly credits the central themes of his music to the influences gained from his lineage and while probably garnered best in his latest album ‘Omoiyari’ released in 2019, this is still very striking in his early work. He often flippantly swaps between native languages and cultural art-forms as they play a pivotal part in and are undoubtably the beating heart of Kishi Bashi’s identity as an artist.
‘You and me at the edge of the world
With a pretty little smile for me to see
New bright whites and a cage full of ice
And a naked little canopy to feed my disease’– Bright Whites (2011)
It is telling that even in his album artwork, complex imagery always compliments the spirit of his songs superbly. On the sleeve of this 2011 introduction and its successor, naturous and fairy-tale like visuals act as a stark reminder that the unification and appreciation of multiple cultures through whatever medium can and often does create resounding and long-lasting stories… AND what better way to construct a fairytale than with some unicorns. Contrary to the name, ‘Unicorns die when you leave’ is by far the funkiest song on this EP. This bonus track, that marks a departure from the seriousness (or at least intensity) found in the other 4 songs, begins with a playful ‘check’ ‘check’. After a rapturous rendition of a Baba O’Reily opener, there is a harmony of happy souls serenading us with visions of beer-filled lakes, an endless can of peas and philadelphia cream cheese. Just one final ‘I’ll be thinking of you’ and a very-traditional and yet very untraditionally-Kishi fade out leads us gracefully from deep sleep… and then it’s curtains. Roughly a 21-minute snooze and you’re pinched out of this dream.
The great thing I’ve learnt about Kishi Bashi is that you can doze in an out of his music at will. The multiple genres inhabited in his music lends itself to almost every type of context there is. It became the perfect soundtrack to my panicked state when last-minute coursework submissions were the order of the week. I’ve mulled his songs over in heartbreak and sang along to them in happiness. In almost all his discography, there is an unrestrained bouncing around of sounds in Kishi Bashi’s work that makes me sometimes envisage a symphonic prodigy living too keenly by his wits, a concerto castaway breaking one too many musical moulds and turned rogue in his rejection of the norm. Such is the playfulness and prudency in his prowess, the name Kishi Bashi has become completely synonymous with range, variety, international sonority and story-building and I feel this is never more true than in this first Vinyl ‘Room for Dream’ in 2011; an ineffable all be it ephemeral experience that began it all. Quite simply, the man is the modern-day king of strings.
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