It’s tough to say what kind of impact classical training can have on contemporary artists. Rock ’n’ roll purists will argue that music theory can clog the creative process, placing form too high over function. But then artists like Kishi Bashi come along and prove that, sometimes, you have to learn the rules before you break them. A renowned violinist long before he picked up gigs with Regina Spektor and of Montreal, Kaoru Ishibashi’s solo work as Kishi Bashi is easily some of the more fantastic, evocative pop music being made today. On his latest, Lighght, Ishibashi further makes his case for formal training, pairing lush violin and keyboard runs with a painstaking ear for detail. As a vocalist, Ishibashi tends toward the higher end of the spectrum, at times calling to mind Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos. (The bouncy “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” is a dead ringer for a Passion Pit jam.) But Lighght’s major highlights come when he opts to go full throttle toward fantasy land. The speedy, buzzy “Carry On, Phenomenon” is an obvious standout and rips open like the bastard child of Electric Light Orchestra and Styx. Later, “Once Upon a Lucid Dream (In Afrikaans)” pits finger-plucked violin against a carefree little clap track and a thick layer of vocal harmonies. Then the horns kick in. Like many of the tracks on Lighght, it’s a flash in the pan that’s easy to digest and tough to unpack, a trick no doubt learned from classical music’s greater pioneers.


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