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String samurai 

Of Montreal pal Kishi Bashi's East-West melodies simply sound otherworldly

click to enlarge JENNIFER LEIGH
  • Jennifer Leigh

Kishi Bashi

151a
(Joyful Noise Recordings)

When Kishi Bashi opened for Of Montreal at the Plaza Live last month, you probably hadn't heard of him yet. To even most of the people who came to the show, he was a stranger. But his electrifying one-man performance completely brought the house down and forever changed that for the assembled, and hopefully this exquisite debut album will do the same for the music world at large.

Kishi Bashi is the solo project of Virginia musician Kaoru Ishibashi. Besides being a touring member for Of Montreal, he actually collaborated with Kevin Barnes on the production of that band's last album, Paralytic Stalks, an experience Ishibashi cites as a cornerstone influence on his own 151a. And it shows in the euphoric aerial pirouettes of melody throughout the collection.

Written primarily on violin, 151a uses classical music as a springboard and translates it into a kind of sophisticated pop brilliance that could hang with the likes of Of Montreal and Loney Dear. Between his sweeping orchestral arrangements, folk earthiness, curling Asian melodics and expansively forward-thinking sonic palette, Kishi Bashi blends Eastern, Western and outright otherworldly sounds in a way that evades the clichés of gutless fusion music.

Besides being the album's best song, the celestially exuberant orchestral pop of “Intro/Pathos, Pathos” sounds like a more majestic Barnes outing. Seldom is state-liness so spirited as in “Manchester,” an all-strings song that's one of two compositions reprised and refinished from his earlier EP, Room For Dream. “It All Began With a Burst” is what prime Animal Collective material would sound like with better distillation and punctuation.

Other standouts include the wistful, rolling journey of “Atticus, In the Desert” and the balletic grace of “I Am the Antichrist to You.”

Grand but lighter than air, Kishi Bashi's sound on 151a channels the finespun elegance of symphonic sounds but sculpts them into a more modern, interesting and utterly relevant language.

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