Kishi Bashi Duo to Play at Cat in the Cream

American singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Kishi Bashi will perform at the Cat in the Cream this Saturday, Oct. 13. He will be showcasing songs from his critically-acclaimed 2016 album Sonderlust, described as “frantic, unpredictable, digital, and danceable” by NPR.

In an interview with Bandcamp, Bashi said Sonderlust “chronicles the life, death, and possible re-birth of a relationship.” The whimsicality behind the album title comes from John Koenig’s blog Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, the title of which captures the theme of the album perfectly.

His work takes an eclectic approach to the indie-rock genre, with noticeable inspirations from ’70s pop. Hints of influences behind Sonderlust range from Bill Withers to Pink Floyd, according to Spotify playlists of Bashi’s citing inspiration. Songs intertwine swaying strings in an electronic soundscape, carried by upbeat vocal melodies — the consistent pursuit of lighthearted playfulness characterizes Bashi’s discography.

Bashi’s show at the Cat will feature his signature live style of looping and sampling. He will be joined by indie-folk band Tall Tall Trees. They have been friends since their days in New York as jazz musicians, and have performed with one another for several years. Unaccompanied by drums, the duo emphasizes rhythm on their own.

“It’s a fun show. We’ll be doing a lot of improvisation,” Bashi said. “In my live stuff, I do a lot of beatboxing and looping — it will be a completely different sound from the studio performances.”

Even minimalist productions like his Spotify single “The Only Living Boy in New York” continue this rhythmic trend, often sounding reminiscent of The Beatles. The playfulness of his compositions downplays the deeper lyrical content, especially in tracks like “m’Lover.” “Did you mean to misinterpret images of our innocence/On vestiges of virtue/Would you feel pity for the masses/We were adding with scandals that we made together.”

This is one of many songs that benefit from being left on repeat, the meaning sinking in more each time. Beyond the lyrics, Bashi describes his work as “positive and quirky.” His instrumental compositions have scored major licensing deals — for example, his work was featured in the Netflix cartoon Hilda.

Bashi’s musical career is also unique — he dropped out of Cornell’s School of Engineering to pursue film scoring at The Berklee College of Music, and later founded the electronic rock group Jupiter One. He broke off as a solo artist in 2011, supporting acts like Sondre Lerche, and opened for of Montreal during their 2012 tour. Since his first solo release of 151a in 2012, his albums have been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.

While Bashi’s solo work remains his priority, he has also put on contests for fans — the current one is the “Honeybody Remix Competition,” in which fans are tasked with re-arranging his song “Honeybody” on using the song stems — audio files that split tracks into their different musical elements. Fans have already come forward with compositions that have entirely changed the flow of the song.

Between his most recent releases, Bashi has been composing and co-directing the documentary Omoiyari.

“It’s a film about World War II history and minority identity in this country and around the world,” Bashi said. The documentary follows his tour to incarceration sites around the country. “I’m improvising and writings songs around that — it’s been the focus of the last two years..

Organizers said it was a challenge to bring Bashi to Oberlin, considering his popularity.

“He’s the biggest artist we’ve worked with yet,” said Hanne Williams-Baron, College senior and manager at the Cat in the Cream. “He has a very tight performance schedule, so there were many moving pieces to coordinate.” There was even some difficulty accommodating Bashi’s instrumentation: “We are still working on procuring a bass for the show,” she added. “There are particular specs they need, so it’s been tricky to figure out so far.”

Bashi’s style of music is different from what the Cat has hosted in the past.

“We love bringing strings to the Cat, and are excited to expand more into baroque pop territory,” Williams-Baron said. “We are experimenting with the variety of groups on stage this semester, and hoping to show students all the different kinds of music they can dance to.”

Past experimental performances, like Ari Lennox, have filled the Cat to capacity, and this trend is sure to continue.

Kishi Bashi’s show at Oberlin will be a rare treat. Conservatory majors and music-minded students will appreciate Bashi’s blend of classical and jazz techniques and sounds, as well as his dynamic emphasis on improvisation with duo partner Tall Tall Trees.