151a is the title of the first album by violinist and performer Kishi Bashi , and although the title is a puzzling mystery, the number 151 itself does have personal importance and has always been one of my favorite numbers. Released in 2012 and produced by Kishi Bashi himself, the album mixes the performer’s energetic violin performance with some quirky and eccentric lyrics, where a few concepts appear multiple times in the song titles, like bright and burst. A song by song analysis follows:
Intro/Pathos, Pathos: The opening of this album is, quite appropriately, a moving and romantic piece with some quirky techno beats and vocal effects. The fact that the vocals are difficult to distinguish is not such a bad thing, as the lyrics appear to be part of the music, for the most part, the sort of music that aims for an iTunes commercial rather than radio airplay.
Manchester: This melancholy but lovely ballad, with its reflections on loss, makes for a compelling example where a singer-songwriter uses the violin in the place of the more conventional guitar, with effective reflection, with its beginning and ending with the sound of tuning, to give it a more chaotic feeling.
Bright Whites: Turning from the sadness of the previous song, this tune is a happy song expressing smiling and happiness and manages to live up to its name with upbeat music and uplifting lyrics. Much of the singing is done in a happy sort of falsetto with some obvious but well-done vocal effects that bring to mind the music of the second half of the 1960’s while remaining contemporary in their production.
It All Began With A Burst: In a flourishing of claps and upbeat falsetto, this song has a particularly strong Japanese feel, with a hint of folk music instrumentation and vocal harmonies that make it an effective track, even if many of its lyrics are not particularly easy to distinguish, nor easy to understand even when read from the liner notes themselves.
Wonder Woman, Wonder Me: This lovely track, with its sliding tuning, reflects a sense of wonderment, and although the song is immensely quirky, it has a sense of beauty about it, with its melodic droning and finger-snapping rhythm and hint of light castanets. If not exactly the sort of song one would hear on the radio, it makes for pleasant background music.
Chester’s Burst Over The Hamptons: This short but upbeat two-minute song features rapid-fire lyrics and a virtuoso violin performance with a spooky instrumental fade at the end that serves as effective musical background. This particular track has the feeling of a short but pleasant bit of album-filler that was put in the album to make it have enough material to be an lp instead of an ep.
Atticus, In The Desert: A spare beginning with beautiful minor-key singing is backed by tasteful violin performing, a gentle guitar performance, and the total package is something that could have been released as a Moody Blues single in the early or mid-70’s and would have likely hit the top 40. Of all the songs on this album, this is the one that most obviously would belong on a radio station, even if it would likely have to be a quirky one.
I Am The Antichrist To You: Despite the ominous of this song, the music itself is lovely and appears like a long-lost Enya track with musical effects not far from “Caribbean Blue” where the violin works as an effective substitute for a guitar as the main element in the instrumental tapestry here, as in so much else of this album. The loveliness of the music and singing contrasts vividly with the hostility discussed in the song’s title, an odd tension.
Beat The Bright Out Of Me: This lovely acoustic ballad with its plucking and beautiful solo violin work and its vocal harmonies is an enjoyable one to listen to, an effective way to close out the album with a mini-suite that transitions midway into a droning techno tune that shows some very odd and mildly disconcerting vocal and violin effects, making for an odd closing to an album that is quirky and beautiful on its own strange terms.
With its cover art featuring a young girl riding an apparently tame tiger,in pastel watercolors, the cover art of this album proudly portrays the hippie aesthetic in ways that the music of this album similarly endorses. An album filled with odd and quirky touches, this is a work that is not designed to appeal to Top 40 radio, and that only has a couple of songs that would be likely to be considered singles in any market, but the album as a whole is well-done, even if it does not seek to appeal to masses or make the lyrics the prominent element of the mix except in rare circumstances where the song in question has a particularly clear point to make. Overall, this album is more about feel and effect than it is a lyrical message, and as a whole this is the sort of album that one can listen to and smile along with, appreciate its instrumentation, maybe dance to by one’s self in a dorm room on a late night. There is no doubt that this album was intentionally made to be quirky, and the few people who find this album, and appreciate the phenomenon of a techno singer-songwriter whose instrument of choice is neither a guitar nor a piano but instead a violin with a sampling machine, are likely to enjoy the album on its own merits.