Sound and Vision
It's been a decade since Japanese pop polymath and bedroom super-producer Keigo Oyamada released Fantasma, an album so smitten with the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, and Kraftwerk's Computer World that it decided to combine them into the world's greatest mixtape. Since then, each new Cornelius album--2002's Point and the brand-new Sensuous--has been less referential and deferential to pop's past and more about Oyamada fashioning a new kind of pointillist, avant-garde soft pop. But at Sonar, on the band's first U.S. tour in five years, shoegaze fan Oyamada pumped up the volume until his fractured AM Gold became an overwhelming A/V spectacle.
Hidden behind a white sheet, Cornelius even managed to make tuning up an adventure. A projection welcomed us to the "Cornelius Group Sensuous Synchronized Show," and the sheet dropped to reveal four people decked in black rock T-shirts--Judas Priest, the Velvet Underground, the Slits--so crisp that they looked freshly bought. Oyamada wore what looked like the world's first T-shirt mash-up: a Neu! shirt sewed into a Trouble Funk shirt. The banks of blinking, multicolored Christmas lights blared, and the A/V people triggered the first video projection, blown up on a screen behind the band. With each song came a new clip, constructed just for the tour to mirror the music with quartz precision.
During the thrashing robo-punk of "Count Five or Six," flashing letters and numbers straight out of '70s Sesame Street interstitial animation were elbowed aside by brutal clips of professional boxing. The brilliant Sensuous track "Gum"--imagine a slicked-out heavy metal band jamming on the vocal experiments of composer Robert Ashley--was backed up with a riot of overlapping, bright red lips mouthing the song's stereophonic consonants and vowels. On Point's "Smoke," a bit of noise-funk with a beat that sounds like the Offspring's "Keep 'Em Separated" slowed down and pitch-bent, silhouetted hands threw sign language signs. Later, animated swans drifted lazily across an early morning sky like Gorillaz's Jamie Hewlett in a pastoral mood, toothpaste came to life, and time-lapse Tokyo traffic sped through the city in neon streaks.
Cornelius fattened its glossy guitar/keyboard squall with mysterious objects like an oblong cross between a steel guitar and a violin, gingerly bowed by the keyboardist. And in a sublimely silly bit of audience participation, Oyamada brought a guy on stage and literally led him by the hand through a wobbly theremin solo. But the band's favorite sound was the tinkle of wind chimes. The diaphanous, fragile Sensuous is awash with them, and at Sonar, Cornelius came equipped with more chimes than a New Age bookstore or a Rush concert. Even at the loudest moments, a member would take a moment to run a finger across one of no less than three sets; it was like kicking back on your porch during a hurricane.
"Synchronized" was right: The brain-clenching interplay between the band and the ever-changing hi-res eye candy on the stage-length screen shorted out your brain's ability to focus. The ageless-looking Oyamada, now pushing 40, barely blinked as he orchestrated it all. You left the "Synchronized Sensuous Show" feeling like you had just roared at high speed through the plasma screen-and-surround sound tunnels of some 21st-century theme park ride. You were never really worried that the coaster's car was going to slip its tracks, but your overloaded senses still struggled to take in all the flashing baubles.
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