If analogies are to your liking, the popular opinion is that Cornelius is the “Japanese version of Beck”. While it may be true that both artists utilize a countless number of musical genres in their songs, Cornelius often seems more focused on the pop aspect. Even while his hip-hop and punk influences are not nearly as visible, they can be recognized with close awareness to his alternative pop soundscape. Born Keigo Oyamada in Tokyo, Japan, he grew up in the 80s influenced by the typical names of Kiss and Queen. Such artists inspired him to pick up a guitar in his teens, eventually leading to him being a very distinguished guitarist after years of self-teaching. His musical emergence came in the early 90s while he was half of the popular Japanese pop duo, Flipper’s Guitar. Oyamada formed the band while he was still in high school with bandmate Kenji Ozawa. While the band originally consisted of five members, their debut album Three Cheers for Our Side in 1989 saw the other three members leave after the release, with only Oyamada and Ozawa remaining. Though the debut initially saw disappointing sales, it pushed the duo towards something even more innovative. They released Camera Talk the next year, resulting in critical acclaim of the album’s style. With an original mixture of jazz, British punk, psychedelia, and house, they were well on their way to becoming one of the most successful acts in Japan. Despite the varying influences, most critics always referred to the most influential as the “three Bs”, which consisted of Beck, The Beatles and the Beach Boys. Their third album, Doctor Head’s World Tower was released in 1991, showing even more range and a similar focus on psychedelic aspects. Camera Talk still stands as their masterpiece, even preceding a handful of other great releases. The band announced their demise in 1993, with both Oyamada and Ozawa pursuing solo careers.
Though both talented musicians have cult followings in Japan regarding their solo work, Oyamada is, without a doubt, more popular internationally. This is partly in thanks to his signing with Matador, a label who tends to treat foreign artists with more respect than most other labels. Matador also previously signed Pizzicato Five, a band I admire that contains many of the same Shibuya-kei roots that Oyamada does. For a more in-depth look on Pizzicato Five and the general genre of Shibuya-kei, check out my post here for a few additional MP3s. Oyamada’s solo breakthrough came with Fantasma in 1997, an album heralded as a great achievement, much like Beck’s Odelay. Personally, I’ve always found Oyamada to be more engaging than Beck, mainly because it often feels he is borrowing from his own mind rather than the creative output of another artist from the past. Excluding a number of various remix compilations, Sensuous is his fourth album in eleven years. While it is not a dramatic departure from his earlier works of Fantasma and Point, an all new form of ingenuity can be found in a variety of songs. ‘Breezin” may not be a good example of Oyamada’s influential intellect, but it is one of the catchiest songs he has done. In an untypically straightforward fashion, he works his halting vocals over a repeating synth line with a chorus that is reliant on general harmonization. The track is serving as one of the album’s singles for good reason. Even if it abandons his experimental aspect for one track, it hopefully will open up some new listeners to his style. ‘Wataridori’ is more typical of Oyamada’s style, being a seven-minute instrumental that is focused on a mixture of guitar, synth, and ambient whirring, setting the tone for a very atmospherically challenging album. ‘Omstart’ is generally acoustic, with a background of rings and bells helping to create Oyamada’s popular serene effect. The track is one of several on the album that is quite relaxing, with others being the opener ‘Sensuous’ and ‘Music’, which sounds strikingly similar to Glasgow’s underrated The Pastels. These songs in variation with the more frantic tracks, such as ‘Gum’ and ‘Fit Song’, provide for a very interesting listen. Since Oyamada is no longer on Matador, Sensuous can only be imported at the moment, as it was released last November in Japan. Is it worth the $40? If you are a fan of Oyamada and you enjoy these tracks, I would say so.
Wow! I had no idea Cornelius had a new album out!
Thanks for this. It’s hard to find good indie Japanese acts among all the BoAs, Koda Kumis, and Ayumi Hamasakis that run amock through the streets of Tokyo.
Excellent! It’s cool to see Cornelius getting some attention on this side of the Pacific. I definitely find Flipper’s Guitar (specifically, Camera Talk) in my CD player from time to time.
Very nice review.