Artist, producer and music extraordinaire Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada), is a master and mixer of sound. Having helped to pioneer the rise of the Western-influenced, but Japanese-grown genre Shibuya-kei during the 90s with his former band, Flipper’s Guitar, he has spent the past two decades forming his own, authentic musical style. Whilst he has retained the sonic diversity that he and his former band members achieved, as a solo artist he has defined himself as a champion of musical fusion.
What makes Cornelius such an enthralling is his capacity for altering and transforming musical styles that appear unyieldingly rigid. ‘Dear Future Person’ and ‘Sometime, Someplace’ which appear on Mellow Waves, his sixth studio album, exemplify the capacity for suffusing indie music with musical western tropes – such as 60s lounge and orchestral pop – that attracted the attention of music critics the world over some twenty years ago. Conversely, opening track ‘If You’re Here’ and ‘Surfing Mind Wave pt.2’ display a successful attempt to integrate the industrial clatter of modern life with the ambience of orchestral music. Two distinguishable collations of acoustic and electro music, both pieces typify his ability to engage with unfamiliar styles. Whilst the initial song subtly immerses the listener with its smooth formula of Synth and romantic electric guitar strums (not to mention the sibilance of Oyamada’s voice) the latter illustrates the kick that this album promises, and delivers. Throughout the album, Cornelius fluctuates between the comfort of the genre that originally kicked him to music stardom and the thrilling danger of creating an authentic, fresh sound.
Thematically, ‘Surfing on Mind Wave pt. 2’ is one of the most pertinent pieces produced by Cornelius. Synthesising string melodies and techno beats, the artist paints an image of blissful sunrise in a contemporary landscape. But it is not long until this urban tranquillity becomes layered with a jolting rhythm of harsh Synth notes which oddly resemble the sound of error warnings on computers. Whilst this sounds like a jarring and overambitious attempt at creating new music, Cornelius, being Cornelius, pulls it off somewhat brilliantly. Suffused with snippets of every day sounds – from various forms of birdsong, to the bustle of overcrowded spaces – all tinged with the trickle of techno, the track explores the diversity of language, music and sounds that frame our interaction with the world that is transforming around us.
In significant contrast ‘In a Dream’ is a modern ode to the classic love song, fuelled by excited lounge-pop Synth sounds and the anticipation of blossoming romance. Once again, Oyamada’s singing amplifies the alluring feel that the smooth combination of 80s-style Synth and gentle symbol-bashing creates. Whilst for some it could mark an overt hark back to the lounge-pop sound of Shibuya-kei, the solo artist’s individuality resonates through the use of his vocals in the track. Along with the lyrical tone created by the music, his dulcet voice adds a sense of indulgence to this alluring, oneiric piece.
Using an electronically-manipulated voice and hyper-modernised music throughout, ‘Helix/Spiral’ can be located somewhere between early Daft Punk and the deepest depths of obscure 80s electro. Fervently electronic throughout, it promises an invigorating spell of enthralling techno which, sadly, it fails to deliver. But don’t take that remark the wrong way: it’s fun, but from a musical explorer like Cornelius, you’d expect the track to venture down more sonic avenues than it does. ‘Mellow Yellow Feel’ signifies the return of the album to the mixing of different sounds and genres that makes it so unique. Remaining true to its title, the track creates a laid-back, summery vibe through rhythmic guitar tweaking, breathy vocals and light-hearted use of Synths.
A piece best described as a heartbreaking lullaby, ‘The Spell of a Vanishing Loveliness’, with calming vocals lead by a female voice, echoes the subtle charm that Oyamada creates at the very beginning of the album.
‘The Rain Song’ is essentially exploratory, echoing the experimental style that Cornelius has used in earlier solo work. Using the same sounds and instruments over and over in different ways, he weaves together an intriguingly distinctive piece. Concluding with the instrumental ‘Crépuscule’, an outro comprised entirely of melodic acoustic guitar playing, the album ends on a surprisingly calm note. In a nutshell, this is an exploration of sounds, thoughts and feelings; an eclectic array of the variety of experiences that music can offer.
review by Beth Andralojc