One of the best kept secrets in music today is Kishi Bashi. I stumbled upon him by accident with his last album Sonderlust, an album that grabbed my attention and refused to let go. With his new album Omoiyari, he does just the same. Opening track “Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear” feels so sweet and summery, as Bashi shows off his amazing violin skills. Yet the song is about lovers separated by the ocean and war. You see the album centers around the stories of the Japanese-Americans who were unfairly placed in internment camps in the United States when WWII broke out. And this song is really a microcosm of the songs on this album: so happy sounding, yet the subjects of the song are the exact opposite.
“F Delano” is what you think it is when you listen to it closely: it’s saying fuck President Franklin Roosevelt, who ordered the Japanese-Americans into internment camps. It’s pretty funny to hear a song centered around dissing a dead president, but in this case there’s a justified level of seriousness. Bashi appropriately ends the song asking you the listener to be the final judge of Roosevelt’s actions: “Was he right?/Innocence without a proper fight?”
“Marigolds” has one of the beautiful openings to a song I’ve heard in some time. The plucky and smooth sounds of the string section gives the song a heavenly, floating-like feeling that you really just need to hear for yourself. I can’t do it justice. The song is about a man yearning to know the woman he loves years before the war, when times were simpler and happier and they could live the life together he envisions in his dreams. I particularly love the delivery from Bashi on the line “I want to fall off the edge with you,” as it show that urgency and passion of the love expressed in the song.
“A Song for You” is about a man vowing that all the fighting he’s doing in the war is for his love. But it’s implied that she passed before he could reunite, as he could never send that photograph that was always meant for her. I really enjoy the guitar licks in the bridge, as they’re well-placed and gives the song a nice punch. ”
“Angeline” features some of the best lyrics on the album, as they not only do a great job of telling the story, but the emotions of despair and wanting of a man who was basically arrested for being a Japanese-American and sentenced to work in a mine for seven years. All the while he’s separated from his woman, Angeline. The best lines of this song make you not only picture, but feel what this man is suffering: “Seven year until I’m free, workin’ off this prison fee/My fingers smell like kerosene in a mine in Tennessee/Every day I hold my breath, every hour I wish for death/Angeline, she’s settled west away from Tennessee.”
“Summer of ’42” once again showcases how great of a violinist Kishi Bashi is, with the epic, rising sounds of the violin constantly building through the song. It’s a song recalling the lost love of a past summer and the passion shared by the couple. It’s probably the happiest track on the album, as I find it impossible to not feel happy listening to it. The lyrics and the sound just come together so satisfyingly well. What a beautiful song, but then again I feel like a broken record saying that with the songs on this album.
“Theme from Jerome (Forgotten Words)” has a dark and menacing open that gives way to a subdued and somber tone. Bashi sings part of this song in Japanese (also part of “Violin Tsunami”) and it’s a nice and fitting moment on this album. “A Meal for Leaves” is an instrumental track, so I really don’t have anything to say other than it fits the rest of the album in terms of sound. “Violin Tsumani” is what the name implies: Kishi Bashi gives us a shit ton of violin on this song and with his skills on the violin, this makes for a fantastic song. No offense to Bashi’s songwriting on this track, but I kind of ignore it and get lost in the violin play. This song shows why he’s one of the best violinists you’ll hear in music today.
The final song on the album is “Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea” and it’s basically a folk country song. I could easily picture Old Crow Medicine Show singing this. The song is about a man finally being free after the war, but his heart his broken because his wife has long been dead and now she’s forever taken his heart as a result. It’s a catchy and fun to singalong with, but also a tragic, yet beautiful profession of love that tugs at the heart strings. It’s a fantastic song that encapsulates the album and the artistry of Bashi.
Omoiyari is a wonderful album full of beautiful lyrics and sounds that cover an important topic in American history that more people show know about. Why Kishi Bashi is not more covered by music journalists I’ll never know, but this music reviewer is telling you that if you have not heard the music of Kishi Bashi, you need to do so.