Kishi Bashi is a lick looping, beat-boxing, violin virtuoso who has a repetition for layering sounds together to create melodies that make even the simplest and most effective of pop songs cringe with their level of underachievement. He has worked with melancholic gods like Sondre Lerche and Alexi Murdoch and when his music hits you, it happily plays on your raw musical nerves. His music has always sounded open and approachable so it doesn’t seem that unusual for him to delve deeper into what the world needs more of, sympathy.
Omoiyari is a Japanese word that means to have sympathy and compassion towards other people and naming this album Omoiyari has been no coincidence. This album is what he calls a song film and it is Bashi’s personal quest to create music in places that have a connection to Japanese American Incarceration during World War II. It is an album that serves as a tool to deal with his own identity and also modern social issues.
This album is definitely a genre-breaking album, one that makes you think as well as feel so deeply. There is a sweetness to his music, regardless of subject matter, that is so earnest you wholeheartedly believe in him enough to bring you on this musical journey.
With its twinkling introduction, “Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear” is covered with a joy that is hard to find. It masks itself as a children tale, depicting the story of Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear and their seemingly unconventional relationship. While Bashi may have created a wholesome story cover in a sugary melody, its deep themes are ones of acceptance, empathy and understanding and serves as an all-ages cautionary tale.
Tales of mistreatment and unsavoury historical recollections are splattered through this album and they manifest themselves in many ways. With an unnerving introduction featuring Bashi’s voice counting from one to seven, “Angeline” departs from the score-like structure of the rest of the album. Both its melody and vocals are folk-based and work together and create a track of longing and imprisonment. Its optimistic tone is self-preserving but this also acts as the catalyst for the downfall of the character. Visions of dark mines and dark veined Tennessee make it certain that the character won’t find the light. Dramatic? Yes, but the best is yet to come.
Starting with a rolling violin arpeggio, “Violin Tsunami” is dramatic as hell. From the start, it drags you in, puts you in a chair in front of a huge screen and paints a world of pain, hurt and intense sadness. Its mix of Japanese and English lyrics show both the rift and the mending of relations between the two countries. It is an epic cacophony of sound, voice and utter power that drives this track over the line to be the best of the album.
“A Meal for Leaves” is an instrumental track that, once you know the basis for the album, will make you quiver at the realisation of meaning in the title. High pitched but balanced voices wail at a pitch that lulls you but also seems to work on your nerves, like some sort of impending doom or uncontrollable act. There is repetition however, the voices are never accompanied by the same backing indicating that history does not repeat itself, it merely rhymes (or so Mark Twain says). The backing grows melancholic and bittersweet and flourishes to an ending that does not stand with the usual markers for an ending but alludes to a time after the track is finished.
Omoiyari feels like a healing journey for Bashi, one of identity and being. While his optimistic outlook is infectious, but it is also scary. With empathy and understanding seemingly at a low level, this album shows everything that we can gain and lose through the use, or lack thereof, of sympathy and compassion. It is a beautiful album, filled with emotion and history and to be honest, it is filled with so much information and so many stories that it requires a reverence that cannot be given with one listen.