Summary: Bittersweet Symphony
The made-up word “sonderlust” is a derivative of another made-up word: “sonder.” The latter, created by John Koenig in his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows anthology, is defined as the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. The former is simply defined by Kaoru Ishibashi as the desire for this “sonder.”
It’s a fitting title for this record, as a good share of Sonderlust gives off the feeling of a certain yearning to reconnect with loved ones, as a sort of way to reignite a fading love.
Instead of embracing the whimsically abstract poetry featured in previous songs such as “Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her” and “In Fantasia” yet again, Sonderlust takes a more personal, grounded approach lyrically, a fitting change for a record described as “an album forged through heartbreak.”
This mood is expressed with lyrics that may not dive headfirst into the abstract, but they still convey the feelings behind these songs very honestly.
This overall mood of desire for connection is tackled from several different angles, with varying amounts of emotional severity depicted.
Sometimes, like on “Hey Big Star,” these tracks come across as endearing songs with choruses that show an optimistic outlook on a relationship that might not be at its highest point.
Then there are songs like “Can’t Let Go, Juno,” that show Ishibashi at his most defeated, “Well it’s a new day / Another full of heartbreak / And every time I check on myself / I’m drinking my soul away.”
It’s sobering to hear such solemn words coming from the same man whose previous efforts are some of the most blissful pieces of music to come out this decade.
Though the album isn’t all sorrow and tears ‒ the closer of the album, while a sudden change in mood from the two previous tracks, is a wonderful highlight that calls back to the cheerful, and sometimes dangerously sweet spirit of Lighght, lyrics about parcheesi and all.
Sonderlust’s more sedated atmosphere is a change of pace that may lose the interest of some fans, but it signifies an artist that puts himself into their art, no matter if it doesn’t appeal to the majority.
Alongside the personal turmoil that Ishibashi was going through during the making of this record, creative struggles were also another major factor that played part in the creation of Sonderlust.
“As I sat down to write songs last summer, I went to all my usual conduits of creation: violin loops, guitar, piano, and I came up with the musical equivalent of fumes," Ishibashi shares in the Bandcamp description for this record.
While the music on Sonderlust is still filled with lush string arrangements that made previous Kishi Bashi records so aurally pleasant, the absence of violin loop-focused instrumentals is noticeable.
For people who come into Sonderlust expecting a Lighght, or even a 151a, may come away from this feeling underwhelmed. Instead, Ishibashi embraces the worlds of synthesizer pop, which he has dabbled with on previous records, as well as ‘70s pop and disco.
Songs like “Say Yeah” and “Ode To My Next Life” are wonderful examples of how well Ishibashi is able to incorporate these new elements into his music and still keep it distinctly his own.
“Say Yeah” balances beauty and grooviness with synthesizers as sparkling as the album cover and an excellent bassline that gives the track some extra bounce in its step.
It’s all topped off with a wonderfully executed flute solo that ranks as one of the best moments on the entire album. “Ode To My Next Life” takes the disco vibes even farther, with some steadily intensifying strings that kick off the track, and eventually break into one of the album’s hardest hitting instrumentals, proving that this new synthetic direction is a change worth getting excited about.
The second half is where the musical aesthetic of the album wanders a bit ‒ this being a good thing or bad thing varies by track.
“Who’d You Kill,” with its sultry keyboards and an swagger-filled vocal performance from Ishibashi, is the most seductive a Kishi Bashi record has sounded ever since the lines “Mr. Steak, he's such a bachelor at heart / He'd never met another cut that likes to booty booty shaky shake” came into existence.
It’s an eyebrow-raising flavor for the record, but it’s executed surprisingly well. Some of the other second-half cuts don’t turn out quite as fruitful though. The absurdly animated vocal samples on “Statues in a Gallery” are something that could get on the nerves of some listeners and “Why Don’t You Answer Me” comes across as indistinct compared to the other songs on here.
Sonderlust doesn’t quite reach the compositional and auditory marvel that is Lighght and won’t be as immediate as its predecessor to fans of that effort, but this newest record is still a wonderfully crafted album that delivers on the lush sounds that has come to be expected from a Kishi Bashi affair, but also throws more than a few left hooks both lyrically and instrumentally, both of which contrast each other quite well.
How much you enjoy this record may just depend how well you can take a punch.