written by Chris Payne
After watching Wild Nothing’s one-man set-up morph into a five-piece, the audience at KEXP’s live broadcast at CMJ Union in New York City during the 2012 CMJ Music Marathon was treated to the virtual polar polar opposite: a string quartet (and more) via one K Ishibashi, aka Kishi Bashi. Although this year’s 151a is his first LP, the Norfolk, Virginia, raised Ishibashi is no stranger to the stage. He’s the frontman of the uptempo NYC synthpop group Jupiter One, and has taken the stage as a backing musician with indie standbys like Of Montreal, Regina Spektor, and Sondre Lerche. On the nine tracks of his new album, Kishi Bashi easily wins over hearts with some cheery chamber pop that sounds twee and innocent, yet also elegant and accomplished. And as a solo act, he constantly pushes the limit of how much music one performer can make onstage, making a backing band seem quite obsolete.
By far the afternoon’s most dapper-dressed performer (only a jacket short of a full suit), K warmed up the post-lunch crowd with a celebratory toast (“Nothing says live radio like Cutty Sark whiskey!”) and some quick vocal warm-ups. With just a violin at hand, Ishibashi cleverly worked backing tracks and his own vocal samples into patchwork pop songs that seemed one part chamber pop, one part symphony orchestra.
High-tech tricks aside, Ishibashi’s flashed his skills as a dazzling violinist, whether it was playing in the traditional form or strumming his instrument like a ukulele. With the possible exceptions of Owen Pallett and Electric Light Orchestra, rocking the violin in a rock setting isn’t the easiest task, though clearly no one told this to the part-time Of Montreal cohort. K played renditions of five tracks off his debut LP, in addition to a well-placed cover of The Shins’ “Kissing the Lipless” (in true Northwest tradition, he first joked about covering Pearl Jam and Soundgarden) to wrap things up.
Towards the end of the set, Ishibashi tounge-in-cheekly offered an “introduction” to his backing band, which was of course, nothing but carefully-arranged gear and pedals. But for those following via radio, another half-dozen musicians could have seemed completely plausible.