Cornelius is the music pseudonym of pop wunderkind Keigo Oyamada, a true maverick and leading light of his nation’s music community. He was first, unfortunately, tagged as the “Japanese Beck” – unfortunate because he’s so much more than this reductive catchphrase could encapsulate. He initially traded in pop-sound mashups and collage song structure, as Mr. Hanson did, but most similarities end there.
One reason the Beck comparison fails is simply that Cornelius was working within a music scene he helped create – shibuya-kei. Starting with his group Flipper’s Guitar, and popularized by Pizzicato Five, the sound thrived in Japan throughout the 90’s and is still the basis for many new projects – everything from Buffalo Daughter‘s trance-rock disco confections to the utterly sublime Katamari Damacy game soundtrack. [Which reminds me, I’ll be writing about that strange treasure of an album soon.]
Since you’re here about the album, I’ll get to it. Fantasma is considered by most fans to be the crown jewel of Cornelius‘ recorded output. As a lover of Point, I’m personally on the fence, but there is no question that this is the place to start if you’re curious about the man and his amazing work. Imagine a musical genius being exposed to all manner of 20th century music – from the bleeding-edge avant garde composers to the purveyors of sixties pop majesty – all at once, with no distinctions drawn between ‘art’ and ‘fun.’ Then imagine him fusing everything he hears into a cohesive shape, focused through a lense of 80’s hiphop irreverence and carved with a DJ’s ear for pacing and transition. Then imagine he makes a record with the ambitions of Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson. You’re close.
Now, play this album and realize that Keigo Oyamada shares not only the ambitions, but talents of my favorite Wilson brother. This is no mere cheap analogy: Repeated close listens to the nuanced and fractured pop ecstasy he’s made reveal the truth in my words. He may never be as lauded, much less well-known, as those Beach Boys he worshipped as a youth. But he deserves it, and this album is Exhibit A in making the case.