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Review: Kishi Bashi, 'Sonderlust'

Kishi Bashi's new album, <em>Sonderlust</em>, comes out Sept. 16.
Shervin Lainez
Courtesy of the artist
Kishi Bashi's new album, Sonderlust, comes out Sept. 16.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Kishi Bashi, <em>Sonderlust.</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Kishi Bashi, Sonderlust.

When he first surfaced as a solo artist four or five years ago, singer and multi-instrumentalist K. Ishibashi specialized in piecing together an intricately looped sound, centered on violin samples he'd recorded live, cut to ribbons and re-purposed to head-spinning effect. Working under the name Kishi Bashi, he's about to release his third album, Sonderlust — "sonder" meaning, essentially, the awareness that everyone around you has a complex life of his or her own. Throughout the album, Ishibashi broadens his palette, rendering his sound ever more frantic, unpredictable, digital and danceable.

As with its 2014 predecessor Lighght, Sonderlust isn't content to replicate the grandiose accessibility of Kishi Bashi's 2012 single "Bright Whites," opting instead for shiny electro-pop that whizzes, squeals and often feels as if it's about to fly off the rails altogether. Ishibashi is a creatively restless soul — he fit in perfectly as a touring member of the band Of Montreal, for example — and it shows here, as the sweeping strings of his past are joined by chopped-up synths in songs that can seem to accelerate into infinity.

Produced by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, Sonderlust spins out in many directions over the course of its 10 songs, from the spangly ballad "Flame On Flame (A Slow Dirge)" to "Ode To My Next Life," a disco-ball fantasia in search of a roller rink. Even as violins squeak in "Hey Big Star," the bass wobbles fervently in choruses that buzz and sway, while "Statues In A Gallery" invokes the giddy, hyper-produced highs of Animal Collective. Every step of the way, Ishibashi exudes swoony romantic yearning that pairs nicely with a searching, empathetic quality worthy of Sonderlust's title.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)