Sensuous, the new full-length album from Cornelius, detonates on impact with the listener's consciousness. It's a bold and nearly infinite record, a twisting Möbius strip weaving simulation into reality and back again.
It is, in a word, genius.
Arriving stateside through Los Angeles-based Everloving Records, Sensuous resists all traditional modes of classification. Yet Cornelius (aka Keigo Oyamada) has always marched to the beat of a different drum machine, even in his wildly eclectic habitat of Tokyo, Japan. Since exploding onto the scene in 1997 with Fantasma, his cut-and-paste opus, Cornelius has dazed and amused fans worldwide with his freeform pop aesthetic and playful sense of humor. On Point, his 2001 follow-up, he stripped away much of Fantasma's sonic embroidery, spotlighting edgier rhythms and ambient textures within a pastoral, South American setting.
But those albums (released on his former US label, Matador) constitute only part of the entire Cornelius package. Keigo has established a reputation as a multimedia savant, remixing Bloc Party, Beck, Merzbow, and the late James Brown and working with Ryuichi Sakamoto and lounge-jazz noisenik Arto Lindsay. He's displayed his visual works at the Barbican JAM exhibition and contributed music to the Shhh... exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. He's become a father, too, and still managed to bring his legendary live show to Europe, Australia, Thailand and the US.
With Sensuous, Cornelius further explores the dazzling atmospherics he developed on Point. It's a disciplined sound that's also wildly experimental, bursting with electronic pulsewaves, wood-grain acoustics, minimalist interludes and raw guitar freakouts. Released as an enhanced CD, it features a video for "Fit Song" and an interactive widget of panoramic Tokyo. (Everloving Records will also release the Sensuous DVD this fall with music videos for all 12 songs, plus more special features.) Sure, you could dance to it, but you could also throw on the headphones, sit back in your Eames chair and get whisked away to Keigo's multidimensional planet of sound.
The voyage begins with the title track. Meditation bells chime and shimmer, softly inviting you to surrender preconceptions and enjoy the ride. "Fit Song" immediately thrusts listeners into the fray at a deliberate hyperspeed: kaleidoscopic beats hang suspended in the air; words and plastic synths float asymmetrically like rocks in a Zen garden, hovering on the edge of order and chaos. "Wataridori" echoes the mellow post-rock synthetics of Tortoise's best tracks, while the robotic splash-funk of "Beep It" channels a Quincy Jones production from decades past.
Closing Sensuous with a faux-orchestral arrangement of the Rat Pack classic, "Sleep Warm," Cornelius reinvents the 1958 track as a Vocoder lullaby for children and adults. As the song ends, this switched-on tableaux gives way to tinkling xylophone, then to vinyl static, finally returning to the bell sounds from the opening of the album.
"Returning is the motion of the Tao," says Lao Tzu. The album's circular design reminds us that it's all a dream, a ruse, a sensuous, artificial paradise modeled on the natural, curated by the man who knows the peaks and valleys of our contemporary emotional landscape as much as any composer alive: Cornelius, aka Keigo Oyamada, the visionary postpunk sound designer of the bright new age.