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Flagments - click opera
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Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 01:06 am
Flagments

Last month, when the Tokyo Times approached me to write a 700 word sidebar for a proposed feature on Cornelius, I didn't immediately jump at the opportunity. In fact, I turned it down. It isn't really polite in Japan to express ambivalence in your press comments, yet ambivalence is what I feel when it comes to Cornelius' music. I drew the paper's attention to A Bathos Ape, the piece I'd written about his disappointing comeback single "Music". Basically, I preferred the video to the song.

And yet, despite finding Cornelius' music often rather arid and academic, I still place him high in the constellation of the world's most interesting music artists, mainly because of his mastery of everything that surrounds music, the empty centre of his work. His website, for instance, is invariably intriguing. The one minute TV advert he's put together for his new album Sensuous ("Sensuous Flagments", as it's billed on YouTube) is fascinating and elegantly conceptual -- like pretty much everything he does. Like Hajime Tachibana of The Plastics, Eye Yamataka of the Boredoms or Konishi from Pizzicato 5, Cornelius is a brilliant editor, a polymath, a conceptualist, a designer. What's exciting about his work is the ideas, the packaging, the marketing, the design.



Since the "bathos" of the first single, there's been another, Breezin', which I have to confess I find as uninspiring, sonically, as "Music". The video is nice enough: an unfeasibly large bubble floats above a children's playground, wobbling before it pops.

Well, a kind little bird sent me the whole of the Sensuous album today, and I must say I like the rest of it better than these two singles. There really isn't a single proper song on the record, though. Correction: there's a lovely synthetic larynx cover of the Dean Martin standard "Sleep Warm", which serves the same function here as "Brazil" did on "Point" -- to remind us that songs exist, and are great, and wouldn't it be nice if Cornelius would actually bother to write some?

But what makes Sensuous compelling is the ideas, and there are lots of those. Here are the notes I scribbled while giving the album a first listen:

Robotic Beach Boys poured over Fagen and Becker
Not so much math rock as math funk-jazz, clipped and controlled
Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly
Lyrics based on a road crossing drill for his son
A 1980s sound, like a pomo Level 42
Nice "unnatural" transitions between the spacily resonant and the bone dry
The toner cart of a printer becomes funk
The record should be called "More Pointillisme"
A scale or an arpeggio becomes a minimalist pattern, with light and colour
There really is sensuality in Cornelius's love of pattern play
Now here's the obligatory fast clipped rock throb ("Gum")
No suprise that The Books have remixed this; they share his hedge-clipping tidiness
Time signatures are impossibly complex, proggy
"Omstart" is foggy-folky, pulsing guitar strings, 60s hippy-dippy spiritual
Reminds me slightly of "Silviphobia" (forthcoming O.LAMM masterpiece), but not as interesting structurally
Guest vocalists ahoy!
"Like a Rolling Stone" should be called "Like Music for Airports" -- it is "Music for Airports"... but done better, with hindsight.

Sensuous is a touching, humane record (we sense Keigo's love for his son Milo in the traffic crossing drill song or "Sleep Warm"), and the checkered math-paper exactitude of its slightly-too-tight-assed funk is more than compensated by a sense of Beatles-ish awe. There's always something "Day in the Life"-ish about Cornelius's music and surrounding concepts, as if a scale, a single note on the piano, or a chord transition could blow our minds, or as if ultimate wisdom were contained in the sound of an air bell chiming in his studio. I get an impression of great freedom glimpsed through a tight grid (which is, it seems to me, a quintessentially Japanese idea), a sense of a window being opened. I don't know if Keigo has ever taken acid, but when I listen to his music I feel like I have. The world is melting into a tidy billion bubbles, pixels, points, or "flagments". The music feels good, man, if you open your mind to the emptiness at its centre. He'd like to turn you on.

19CommentReply

blastoisemaster
blastoisemaster
BlastoiseMaster
Mon, Oct. 2nd, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC)

I think I understand what you're saying, and I find great comfort in it. I've commented before that ever since Fantasma, all I've been waiting for is "the next Fantasma", and while it sounds like this certainly won't be it, it at least sounds like it's a step in the right direction, maybe some kind of warm middle ground between the bursting, enthusiastic, sonic namedropping of Fantasma, and the stark, overplanned electronica of Point. There certainly is a lot of warmth in the singles, and I can only hope the rest of the album is as loving, I certainly have no problem with electronica, as long as it's done with heart (Girls Tape Store, PINE*am, Hi-Posi, I'm smiling in your general direction).

On another note, I just heard my first-ever Plastics album, and I was wondering if you could shed some light on a puzzle I'm having. A while back, I first got into a band called Polysics (elecropunk+new wave, very catchy and fun). One one of their albums was the song "Good", which I later found out was actually a Pizzicato 5 song originally... or so I thought, until listening to Welcome Back Plastics, which ALSO features a version of Good. Would you happen to know if the song lineage go back even further than that, or are Plastics the originators?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Oct. 2nd, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)

It seems originally to have been a Plastics song. You can hear all three versions here.


ReplyThread Parent
blastoisemaster
blastoisemaster
BlastoiseMaster
Mon, Oct. 2nd, 2006 11:46 pm (UTC)

Ah, thank you! Now to attempt a syncing of all three. Maybe by doing so, I'll be magically transported to 90's Japan. I'll be sure to look you up if that's the case.


ReplyThread Parent
saidai
saidai
:// 最大
Mon, Oct. 2nd, 2006 11:49 pm (UTC)

I really like Cornelius. I don't know how Breezin' sounds like But I quite liked Music. But I can't wait to hear his next album. He's one of the person I'd like to meet one day.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 05:27 am (UTC)

If you follow the link, you can watch the YouTube video of Breezin'.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 12:10 am (UTC)
But He's Not The Sensuous Man

Come on, Mimosa. This guy is obviously ripping off the brand of one of your own illuminated artists, Mr. Swenson: THEE SENSUOUS MAN. See, where Cornelius fails to make the grade is the MAN part. I mean, there's no testosterone in the Corn repertoire. You sure are wrong, brother, about the lack of center, the center does not hold, because brother, Mr. Swenson is the 1 and Corn is the zero and Swenson's big 1 rips a fissure into Corn's holio, bro.

I'd like to hear a mashup of Swensonic virtue and Cornholionique crack flakes. Bless us?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 05:34 am (UTC)

I heard it. I dunno, it sounded like a mixture of tabloid populism and passive aggression to me. You know how Americans are said by market researchers to be full of barely-contained rage these days, which is why they go and shoot schoolchildren with such regularity? It seemed to be designed to appeal to people full of those sorts of feelings; "moronic cynicism", accusation poised and ready to spill out like poison. The same feelings of righteous indignation fuelled Jarvis' attack on Michael Jackson. But at least Jackson has written songs like "Man in the Mirror", which turns Gandhi's "Be the change you want to see in the world" into "Take a look at yourself and then make a change".


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)

Given historical evidence, Jackson clearly meant superficial changes -- plastic surgery and skin treatments.

-henryperri


ReplyThread Parent
niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 06:43 pm (UTC)
"Serve Yourself"

I thought I was listening to a John Lennon outtake.


ReplyThread Parent
cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 01:12 am (UTC)

mm i'd like to get my paws on this...close my eyes and do a similar sythesthetic review/run-through...[i've become so accustomed to reviewing music now i become frustrated if i can't at least turn a few stone-skips into text.]

i have to admit i've liked the music by the ladies in Cornelius' life more than the music by Cornelius in the past. i like him too though. partially because he just seems...like a nice human being...even when i'm feeling lukewarm about the product.

huh and i never realized how much my ex-boyfriend looks like Cornelius until that photo. anyway.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 05:14 am (UTC)

wouldn't it be nice if Cornelius would actually bother to write some?

But is Oyamada really a "songwriter"? He has never seemed the one to pick up a guitar to create a composition that would stand on its own, stripped out of production. His goal has always seemed to be one of pastiche - feeling the experiential rush of redoing something fantastic that already exists. Go back on his old albums and try to find a song that is not a complete melodic-rip that would actually be pretty good on its own, without production, and there are very few options (even in the Flipper's days. Maybe "Goodbye, Our Pastels Badges").

He has been a A+ producer and editor for a long time, but he is not really a "songwriter" in any kind of classic mold, whether that be Paul McCartney or Momus. He starts with the production and adds the song in later, not the other way around.

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 05:42 am (UTC)

I think you're right, and I think that's one reason I was recruited to help direct Kahimi Karie's career in 1993. Why pastiche when you can employ the real thing? Then again, I'm also that kind of artist: there's a case for saying everything I've done is more or less cunningly concealed pastiche. And I think that's how pop works in general. So I do think it's just laziness. And you can produce your way to songwriting. Think of "Star Fruits, Surf Rider". True, it's not much played on an acoustic guitar, but the production makes it a very original song to listen to. The sparkly hesitant bits, the double-time drums on the headlong rush of the chorus, the Indian string arrangement. Put it all together and it sounds like nothing you've ever heard -- or did at the time.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 06:07 am (UTC)

News from Japan is that Cornelius' father just died yesterday, so I'd like to offer my condolences.


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telephoneface
telephoneface
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 01:10 pm (UTC)

That is very sad to hear.

"Point" really let me down the first time I heard it but it grew and grew and grew on me and by the time I watched the 5.1 DVD the zen electro-acousticness of it all felt very homey and also very creative. I really like it now....good music to, as he would say in interviews a few years ago, stare out of train windows to.

I don't think it's to blame on his songwriting either, the dip in quality of the new work. Everything he ever did pre-Point, whether it was an album cut or a remix or a Takako track blew my mind from start to finish. Upon closer inspection alot of Fantasma songs are all based on two chords, yes, but the words and the phrasing all meshes with the sounds in a very nice way, to paint a picture of what is going on overall. I very much agree with the "produce your way to songwriting"....I'm a firm believer in 'it's not the song but the singer' or maybe here 'it's not the song but the producer'.

The reason why I'm not ecstatic about a Point 2 is that the new songs all seem to use the same samples, the same sounds. The previous releases were like entirely new sound worlds whereas here it's more of the same. I should wait for the full record to make any judgements though; perhaps there are some other ideas, at least some other ways of putting those few sounds together?


ReplyThread Parent
flyonawndshield
flyonawndshield
John
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 07:54 am (UTC)

Great entry Momus.
You've captured the essence of what I have wanted to say about Cornelius for years. I think that Cornelius is an amazing producer, so I love the remixes and work he does for other artists and of other artists' songs. But, his songwriting is so very average. He can create interesting aural landscapes painting beautiful shapes of sound, but these landscapes always seem to lack real depth and human feeling. It becomes too pretentious, too ambient. He seems to remove himself from the process, so that he becomes a non-entity and a conductor of the sound rather than the artist that produced it.

That being said, I will still purchase this album. If nothing else, it will be a great headphone album.

And, I'd also like to offer my condolences for his father.

-John


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 09:36 am (UTC)

i don't know about sensuous yet, but i love the way keigo's music has progressively and constantly been evolving towards abstraction, how he seems to be more and more fascinated by sound shapes, meshes and knits, how rhythms can interact and mingle according to the way they shift forward or backward: this is still about pop music, because they're still a great deal of melodies in the crucible, but i'm really fascinated by the way he moved from modulating music genres to modulating simple mesmerizing shapes, from postmodern to, say, well, mesmer. just the way he deals with delay effects in "music" is enough to keep me fascinated and excited. (odot)


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)

Just a thought, these recent songs I've heard from cornelius sound less clubby and loopy/technoish compared to most songs from "Point" which was more like "dancefloor music". Or?


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC)

Momus i replied to your comment in the Japanese Bin Laden entry.

Jarvis Cocker is like a British Darlene Connor from Roseanne - but he is not an adolescent anymore!




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(Anonymous)
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)

glad you liked the album...someway


A


ReplyThread Parent