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Cornelius - Sensuous

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Artist: Cornelius

Album: Sensuous

Label: Warner Music Japan

Review date: Mar. 23, 2007

It's been a few years since Japan's Cornelius (aka Keigo Oyamada) released his last album, Point, though he's released a number of EPs and remixes in the meantime. After achieving international renown with the acclaimed Fantasma, Point was received with mixed reviews, despite being an entirely respectable release. Call it the difficulty of following up an overwhelmingly lauded album.

Perhaps listeners will be able to judge Sensuous on its own merits given the gap since they've last heard from Cornelius. The album was released in Japan in October, but unavailable to American listeners unwilling to fork out more than $30 for the import; it will finally be released in late April from Everloving Records, together with a short U.S. tour including an appearance at Coachella.

Those who've heard the previous albums will find much of what you might expect here, including exceptional studio gloss spread over all of the songs. To some extent, Cornelius' music is the audio equivalent of the latest Hollywood CGI effects -- it's inarguably synthetic and artificial, yet when done well, the ends justify the means. Many artists do this poorly, but few if any use the tools as successfully as does Cornelius. Every note is in the right place, and this time around he's playing extensively with rhythms as well as melodies.

The high-tech sheen serves in an odd way to take attention away from the means of production; because it all sounds so perfect, you find yourself forgetting the sound effects and concentrating on the actual songs. On the opening title track, the notes reverberate immaculately, the delays are perfectly-placed, and the shimmering strings never sound ornamental. It's a gorgeous piece of music that earns its title. "Fit Song" is the likely single here (and I recommend searching YouTube for the mind-boggling stop-motion video), a playground of rhythmic invention. Drums and vocal clips ping-pong in stereo, guitar alternates with synth pads, and the whole song percolates in syncopated motion. If there's a song that encapsulates modern recording, in terms of using the studio to craft a clever experimental pop song, this is it.

The album is remarkably consistent, in terms of offering a variety, while also remaining true to a certain feeling. This is a summer album, no question, from the beautiful sparkling pop of "Breezin'" to the comparatively heavy rock of "Gum," with a thick guitar chug over steady drums and bass. "Beep It" updates the '80s with its thick synth riff and chanted vocals, the most danceable song here, and one for which the DFA crew would sell their mothers.

The most overt example of Cornelius' experimentations with rhythm this time around is "Wataridori," the longest song here but also perhaps the most interesting. After a deceptive opening synth wash, a rhythm is slowly established through a captured and repeated moment of synth, over which guitar notes begin to drop, seemingly at random. That's until the drums come in, at which point the interlocking rhythms grow denser and more complex. Everything is perfectly synchronized, with the guitar notes providing both amazing patterns and a memorable melody.

Certainly, some of the songs are less immediately attention-getting. "Music" is perhaps classic Cornelius, a deceptively simple song yet pleasant enough, "Omstart" provides a calm breakwater between the heavier "Gum" and the bounce of "Beep It," and "Like A Rolling Stone" veers perilously close to New Age styles, with only the odd bubbling sounds rescuing it from monotony.

Ultimately, Cornelius has shown that he stands alone when it comes to future pop, and the results are an exceptional pleasure to hear. Sensuous should find its place on many lists of the year's best albums.

By Mason Jones

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