Cornelius – Sensuous (2006)

The more I think about it, the more I realize 2006-2007 was a great year for me, musically speaking. I saw Isis, Boris, Cornelius and Richard Bona live in Germany and I discovered many amazing bands and albums which I’ve been writing about here and there. Cornelius (born Keigo Oyamada) is a Japanese musician who was part of a noise music festival in a little town somewhere near Dortmund, along with his band. The festival was wonderful, albeit rather quaint. They had everything from ethnic food shacks to improvised tattoo parlors in tents, musical instrument artisans and all sorts of esoteric jewelry. Boris (with all caps) simply demolished the stage in one of the fiercest waves of droning noise I’ve ever heard, only to be followed by the clean, upbeat and happy Cornelius. The band showed up with all its members dressed in a sort of sailor uniform, playing their instruments against a huge screen with wonderfully colored pieces of video-art/Winamp visualization hybrids. At the end of it I felt so inebriated I ended up stealing a kiss from my crush at the time, who had joined me at the concerts. This speaks volumes not so much about Cornelius’ effect on me but rather on her, since everything did not turn out awkward in the end, which is nothing short of a miracle!

Anyway, the show was a performance of his latest album at the time, titled Sensuous. I’m not sure if it’s his best one because it’s rather hard to classify this music in general, not to mention from one album to the next, but it’s the one which stuck with me the most. And speaking of classification, yesterday I heard about a genre which made ma laugh out loud – “indietronica” it’s called, and I had no idea what it was supposed to mean. Imagine my surprise when I realized I’d been listening to one of the spearheads of “indietronica” for five years already! Genres aside, Cornelius’ music is very structured and… transparent. This is glass music, resonant, brittle, colorful and sharp. Add to that the whole array of digital, aseptic and mechanical sounds he employs and the humorous mood most of the songs have and listening to Sensuous is like watching little mechanical toys scurry around being their silly selves.

I love the contrast between the title of the album and the unfailing mechanical, programmed style the music has, especially because it’s not much of a contrast, since at least some of the tracks really sound… well… sensuous. And I’m not just talking about the sensory overload they can create, the slight dizziness which can ensue from the use and abuse of stereo panning (by the way, I strongly recommend listening to the tracks with headphones on or a good set of well-positioned speaker to enjoy the full effect), I’m also getting the feeling there’s something very sexy about these songs, something playful and delightful, a bit flirtatious. The fascinating visual effects the band uses live are definitely a big part of their impact and it’s sad that I can’t provide you with the same atmosphere they can create at their concerts but at least the music videos are great miniature representations of that awesome barrage of image and color. Let it never be said about the Japanese that they don’t know how to put on a show. The lengths they go to make Lady Gaga pale in comparison, and if you don’t believe me, just watch a Gackt video (more theatrical than the digital Cornelius), in case you’re curious.

One more thing I’d like to add – some of the songs on Sensuous make me understand the “indietronica” genre reference a bit better. Take for example the “Gum” track which I’ll post. The use of voice samples highly reminds me of Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Zoolook” album, a collaboration with the amazing Laurie Anderson, in which they deconstruct language into sounds and syllables to make it sound slightly alien, slightly animal, eerie and yet strangely understandable. They’re playing with the uncanny valley of language, a zone in which you’re under the impression that you’re supposed to understand, but meaning is just barely out of reach. I wouldn’t say Cornelius goes so far, but his play with sounds is definitely pointing in the same direction, which I personally find fascinating.

I hope you enjoy Sensuous and I hope I’ll get to hear some of his music again at an “indietronica” party I’m planning to attend this weekend. See you tomorrow and “konban-wa!”


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