I got in an argument once about the meaning of ten. It was the kind of argument where I had to call the person the next day and apologize for myself, one where the beliefs were so deeply held and disparate that it basically turned into a fight. He held that scoring something a ten is impossible, no album, no piece of art, can ever be perfect. Ten doesn’t exist — it’s fiction. By placing the crown of perfection on something it diminishes the art, making it inconsequential by saying it achieves something it so obviously doesn’t. On an existential plane that’s absolutely true, we all know perfection is impossible, that no human being can ever reach such celestial heights. To me, that is not the meaning of ten. On a practical level it means there is nothing I would change about the album, that the phrase, “I wish…” never enters your thinking when listening to the record. But that’s not what makes a piece of art a ten, that’s what would make a paper an A. What makes an album a ten is indescribable and personal. It’s putting it on for the first time and leaning back on your couch. It’s the way your eyes open wide when you hear that song, the way you sit up charged by adrenaline, the way you ache at its beauty and when it’s over — you press play again hoping the feeling comes back.
Kishi Bashi’s debut 151a is a ten. It’s a ten because even at a scant 9 tracks, it feels epic. Ishibashi, also violinist in of Montreal, uses a mixture of electronic sounds and orchestral swirl to create lush pop. The album seems to expand into a joyously large explosion of whizzing, whirring noise for one track, then contract into restraint on the next. It’s a ten because it’s entirely new, yet comfortably familiar. 151a recalls of Montreal in its brilliant excess, Andrew Bird in its perfect alt-pop construction, Jonsi in its wild beauty, but always stays a singular experience. It’s a ten because there is no track you want to skip, no moment that seems forced or insincere, no song that won’t leave you smiling and singing it for weeks. It’s a ten because the track “Bright Whites” makes you want to skip in flowers and “Atticus, in the Desert” makes you want to groove, and “Manchester” makes you fall in love.
Mostly it’s a ten because it moved me. Because when I heard “Manchester” for the first time walking down the street in the early spring sun, I swelled. Because, in the most sappy and corny way possibly, it forced me to look up, look at the blossoms, the trees, the sun, the city, look at the person next to me, look to where I was going and smile. Because every time I have listened to it since I feel the same way. Because when I listen to it years from now I will remember that feeling, remember it sound-tracking this moment in my life, and remember everything I loved to the point of tears, including the song. That, is perfect.