Rabbits Full of Magic

20 August 2011

 

Fantasma


Keigo Oyamada (AKA Cornelius) is one of the most brilliant, idiosyncratic recording artists of the 20th & 21st centuries. Keigo Oyamada paved the way for the stylish 90s Shibuya-kei scene in Japan alongside like-minded artists such as Kahimi Karie and Pizzicato Five. After cultivating an underground sound in the mid-80s, he hit it big in Japan's version of The Monkees, a pop band called Flipper's Guitar that mixed 60s psychedelia and mainstream pop into a teen sensation that even had its own TV show. His thirst for recording led him to famously produce Pizzicato Five's best album, 1993's Bossa Nova 2001, a multicultural world-wind tour through retro influences the globe over. The Japanese culture scene based around these titanic acts from Shibuya displayed a unique Eastern approach to pop history, mixing every Western genre through a prismatic Futurist perspective. For Flipper's and Pizzicato Five, Norwegian Metal, Caetano Veloso, Gil Gilberto, Kraftwerk, Black Sabbath, Talk Talk, The Beach Boys, Ennio Morricone, Jesus and Mary Chain, Acid House, Walt Disney soundtracks, etc. all shared the same head space. Album art was extremely vintage-yet-amplified classic 60's and 70's pop.


It sounded like everything was on acid, and fittingly Japanese and Western music culture has shared an asymmetry since the 60's. When Japan was introduced to The Ventures it was the birth of the Group Sounds - the Japanese garage rock explosion. Lots of lofi, futuristic, off-kilter psycho surf classics have originated from here. Some in Japanese, some in English: see The Mops trippy classic "I'm Just a Mops".


Keigo's band broke up in 1991, but his experiments in the recording studio at 3D Corporation led to a new solo identity: Cornelius, from the friendly ape from Planet of the Apes. Keigo has built a mythology about his character of Cornelius throughout his solo career, basing much of his second album 69/96 (1995) on the idea of Cornelius as devil-horned pop metal rockstar astronaut. On that record he received comparisons to Beck as musical curator and sample-jockey. It makes me think more of the Beastie Boys.


First Question Award was more in the traditional Shibuya-kei style, more like Japanese gameshow/bossa nova psychedelic pop. 69/96 featured 96 tracks and had bonus tracks on #69 and #96, and was 69:96 long. It featured experiments with cut-up drum machines, funk, Black Sabbath samples, cassettes, theremins, traditional Hawaiian instruments, electric sitar, etc. The narrative involved the adventures of Cornelius, and was a journey starting in outer space and ending up passing over Africa and into Hawaii, at the end of the world. I'm pretty sure the last bonus track samples "Owner of a Lonely Heart" but I'm not sure...


FantasmaI'm going to skip the rest of his catalog, including what he's doing now, even though it is always mindbogglingly idiosyncratic and futuristic, to talk about Fantasma. This third album is Cornelius's Pet Sounds, both in production leaps and emotional resonance. But actually I like this album more.

When I was 18 I went to see the Flaming Lips begin to promote their new album The Soft Bulletin, at a show at Atlanta's The Masquerade. Cornelius opened, and I bought an import CD of Fantasma before the set was even over, even paying the stupid price of $20. His show was completely synchronized music and visuals, and started with a cover of Black Sabbath's "Wicked World", leading into trippy Beach Boys-styled Brazilian electronica, and culminating with Cornelius playing theremin to "Love Me Tender" while a VHS of Elvis in Hawaii looped in the background projection. That moment changed my life.

I bought a theremin the next day, from Robert Moog, signed by the man. Being into Japanese underground rock is what made me aware of Robert Moog, and for that alone I really have to be thankful. I played theremin in an Atlanta ghost rock band for years and years, practicing taming the tuneless radio beast. I recently played it with the Carnivores and before that the Mermaids on a float during a Halloween parade. Cornelus lead me to discover Momus, who signed me into a videogame band Super Madrigal Bros. We recorded several psychedelic NES albums and went on a few tours. Eventually Bjork heard it!


Cornelius's show that day was the most amazing music performance I have ever seen in this lifetime. He tore through "E", the live-only experiment in one-chord drone rock, mixing classic rock riffs cut up at random over drum-and-bass live drumming from drummer Yuko Araki (AKA Mi-gu). At one point it felt like being in a Christmas Disney parade on mushrooms. Cornelius says on one of his promotions for Fantasma "Keep this and all other drugs out of the reach of parents."


Fantasma the album felt not as good as the live performance the first time through, then my favorite album of all time the second time through, and then every listen since then and the album just gets better and better. While listening I am powerless to do anything else. One song called "God Only Knows" has vacuum cleaners recorded with 3D microphones through the entire thing, and lyrically calls back to "Just Like Honey" by Jesus & Mary Chain and "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys AT THE SAME TIME. For the noise rock "New Music Machine", the lyrics booklet features Cornelius dressed up just like the members of Talk Talk on the album cover above. He even duplicates the gloved hand reaching up to turn up the volume.


The album includes a Videogame Rave performance of Bach in "2010" and after it whizzes by a sample of Jeremy Irons saying "Bravo!" comes in from the coked-out 80's film Amadeus. The last proper song is "Thank You For the Music", and includes a tape cassette rewinding through songs you just listened to! Fantasma ends on a choral piece bending "Our Prayer" from Smile into the prayer "Fantasma". The album tries to hug the entire history of pop music, and it's a hug as big as the whole world.


Fantasma is on sale at Amazon. It recently got re-released and remastered by Sean O'Hagan from the High Llamas. It comes with a bonus disc including all the necessary b-sides and remixes and flexi-discs and crazy one-off recordings from the time period you could ever want. I hear it's already out of print, but luckily we live in the age of google.

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thanks for sharing those videos. I want to watch more Oyamada-san works. It looks great those that they are in the post.
 
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