A Pretty OK Song: "Summer of '42" - Kishi Bashi
Since I covered a song from Kishi Bashi's 2016 album Sonderlust, Kaoru Ishibashi has become one of my favorite musicians. So when he started releasing singles from his new album, Omoiyari, I was sucked in from the jump.
Omoiyari—also the name of Ishibashi's 2017 "songfilm"—is a Japanese idea about how people, places, and things should behave toward each other. Considerate compassion sits at the center of omoiyari and extends further than the interactions between two people. Think busy shopping areas having public umbrellas to help customers stay dry on rainy days.
Why would Kishi Bashi choose this concept as the name for his album? I think "Summer of '42" holds some clues.
This song feels like it came straight out of a Wes Anderson movie thanks to Ishibashi's orchestral sensibility. Compare the intense strings that begin the track to the opening credits of, say, The Royal Tenebaums. The minor key gives the song tension and intensity that's only broken when major chords herald the arrival of the chorus, with whimsical strings and falsetto vocals (two cornerstones of Kishi Bashi's music) keeping the chorus peaceful and light.
The intense strings come back for the second chorus to hammer home the emotional intensity of the lyrics, with Ishibashi singing I climbed to the highest mountain and I shouted to our view, I was in love with you. Finally, the song ends with soft vocals fading into a peaceful woodwind and acoustic guitar melody. It takes me back to when I saw Kishi Bashi live in Madison and he closed the show with an acoustic set performed from within the crowd.
So now for the big question: is omoiyari present in "Summer of '42"? The lyrics don't mention compassion, consideration, or caring. Instead, they present the listener with a view of society where such concepts were not present. World War II was raging then, with German troops falling back from Russia as the singer and the song's object were meeting and falling in love. But as is so often the case, other things get in the way, and the romance is lost to time ("the days were gone asunder, the chaos of the war").
What I love most about “Summer of '42” is how fully the song depicts the beauty in sadness. It plays on nostalgia, love, and loss in the lyrics and gives vivid color to those emotions in the chord progression. The song starts off intense, then calms down before peaking during the second chorus and fading away, as any outburst of emotion tends to do. And no instrument tugs at the heartstrings quite like, well, strings, which Ishibashi uses masterfully to evoke an emotional response from the listener.
As warm weather approaches, I find myself pining for long walks outside or bike rides around Bristol. And every so often, "Summer of '42" creeps into my daydreams, acting as the perfect backdrop for such an activity. If you ignore the lyrics, this song is a simple, fun orchestral piece. Once you dig a little deeper, though, the layers begin to reveal themselves, and the song's inherent sadness makes the beauty that much more striking.