Review Summary: A tale of love, war, and internment: Kishi Bashi crafts his folk tragedy; his Carrie & Lowell.
, Kaoru Ishibashi has crafted his Carrie & Lowell
. The parallels extend beyond this record’s obvious folk aesthetic, a pastoral sound resulting from pristine acoustics and string-laden verses. Much like Stevens’ celebrated indie-folk icon, Omoiyari
is also an album born out of suffering – in this case not the death of a single familial figure, but rather the internment camps that housed over one hundred thousand Japanese citizens during World War II. Ishibashi did not directly feel the impact of Colonel Karl Bendetsen’s initiative to incarcerate anyone with “so much as one drop of Japanese blood”, but Omoiyari
is nevertheless a reflection upon the hysteria of that time – as well as a warning regarding the current socio-political climate in the western hemisphere.
tells the story of these interned citizens from several angles and through multiple lenses, but the primary motif that courses through the album’s veins is that of a love story set in the middle of World War II. This narrative aches with longing and distance, presumably that of separated lovers during the height of internment which left so many in unjust isolation. On ‘A Song For You’, Ishibashi writes, “We pledged to send a photograph of every frame, of every laugh we meant to have.” The imagery of that statement alone is powerful – two people, robbed of the memories that they should
be making, simply trying to make do. On the Justin Vernon reminiscent ‘Angeline’, the theme continues: “The foreman, he had to come to find prison folk to work the mine / The judge was there to give me time away from my Angeline.” The emotion surrounding these tragic verses is given a proper backstory on the orchestral lead single ‘Summer of 42’, where Ishibashi sings to an atmosphere of poignant strings: “The first day that I met you I wrote down in my book: I am in love with you
” – painting this picture of two people in love at first sight. Ishibashi could have taken broader aim at the atrocities of Japanese interment, but sometimes the best way to communicate pain is to immerse the story’s recipients in the personal lives of the victims. In this way, Omoiyari
is a glowing success.
Ishibashi does vary the narrative from time to time, such as on the ironically upbeat ‘F Delano’, which serves as a condemnation of FDR’s role in internment. In a particularly stirring interview with NPR, he described the bittersweet way in which history will remember the former president: “FDR is really still considered one of the greatest presidents of all time. He helped America out of the Great Depression and created all of these social programs that we still depend on today, yet he was a villain in the story about Japanese-American incarceration, because he just took away civil rights for a whole entire race of people.” In the song itself, Ishibashi sings about these citizens being pushed into camps without a plan, by the leader’s furious rhetoric along with the help of those who followed him: “Named of the leader who favored a nation after his own / Into the desert he pushed all the Nips, he wasn't alone / Speech with a fury / Sentenced with no plan ahead of you / Without a heart / No winning hand for any man or child, F Delano.” ‘Theme from Jerome’ changes views from that of separated lovers to a mother trying to soothe her children within the camps at night – “And when they sleep she'd sing this melody / To her beloved sons, forgotten words from Japan” – a passage that is preceded by several verses in Japanese. That’s the odd thing about Omoiyari
– upon initial inspection, it merely sounds like a bright and happy pastoral folk album – but the more you dig into the lyrics and Ishibashi’s complexly interwoven stories, the more it reveals pain and darkness.
Writing about a topic so close to his heart – not to mention one of paramount importance – has brought out the best in Kishi Bashi’s songcraft. Some listeners will miss the zaniness of Lighght
, but that sort of frenetic, celebratory tone would appear woefully out of place on a record centered around tragedy. Omoiyari
is meant to be moving, and with a stripped back atmosphere, Ishibashi’s vocals are given ample space to thrive. By placing the impetus on his words and melodies, this concept album feels very real and proximal. He’s at the top of his game on ‘Marigolds’, where he’s able to incorporate rapidly plucked acoustics in with his renowned violin flutters, all before the song smooths out and warms up to a beautiful refrain of “I wish that I could grow up with you / I want to see the world the way you do / I want to fall off the edge with you / I want to fall with you.” ‘Marigolds’ is both the prototypical Kishi Bashi song as well as one of the very best tracks on Omoiyari
; it’s a microcosm of the album that aspires to breathtaking heights. Kishi Bashi’s biggest departure (some might even call it a risk) is the jaunty, folk-styled romper ‘Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea’, which recalls the quaint, country-tinged twang of The Avett Brothers. Stylistically it’s probably the biggest misfit on Omoiyari
, but it’s a fun, carefree way to end an album that touches on some rather hefty subject matter.
is an intriguing album for several reasons. Sonically, it is Kishi Bashi’s richest-sounding and most fundamentally beautiful album. Thematically, it covers a sad but very important moment in history – yet at the same time it can sound more like a simple love album to the casual listener, in part due to Ishibashi’s forays into specific tales of romance. If you’re willing to invest multiple listens or sit down with the lyrics, the record hits on another level. It’s bleak yet optimistic at the same time; observing tragic past circumstances yet looking toward the horizon with hope. On the penultimate ‘Violin Tsunami’, Ishibashi echoes this sentiment by putting his faith in future generations: “We are blessed to be mending the rift of our apathy…Days on end after the end of the cancer / One day you will follow with the sound of laughter / One day we'll fall in love.” In the end, I think that’s the primary takeaway from Omoiyari
– which means “compassion.” It’s about learning from past mistakes and applying those lessons to the present. It’s time to have sympathy for one another and not classify groups of people according to how threatened they make us feel. This album is the first work by Kishi Bashi that feels like a mission, and it’s that same sense of purpose that drives Omoiyari
to be the most gorgeous and impactful piece of his catalogue.