Cornelius: Breaking New Ground in Hybrid Japanopop

First appeared in the Willamette Week, August, 2002

Japanese pop whiz kid and renaissance man Keigo Oyamada—better known to the world as Cornelius—first came to American attention back in 1998 when he released his U.S. debut, Fantasma. Fusing a Beatles-level pop saavy with a Boredoms-esque sense of humor and a production ethic that Phil Spector would have been proud of, it was a modern pop masterpiece. It took four long years, but Cornelius—who took his stage name from the Planet of the Apes—has finally returned with Point, his long overdue follow-up.

“I was touring, remixing, producing and took about one year to make Point and got married and had a kid,” offers Keigo in explanation. It’s not too surprising really, when you consider that he also runs the Trattoria label, has done dozens of remixes and has many other irons in the fire.

Time, and perhaps fatherhood seem to have mellowed him a bit, as Point doesn’t quite have the same rapid-fire, channel switching vibe as Fantasma.

“I’ve experienced many things and I think I matured a bit,” he offers. “I think that Fantasma had a lot of information. But this time I wanted to create more space between the sounds and only use the information that I felt was necessary.”

That’s not to say that Point is even remotely predictable. It still benefits from Oyamada’s meticulous cut & paste production method and stylistic leaps: the flamenco-tinged “Bird Watching at Inner Forest” leads into the heavy-metal romp, “I Hate Hate” which in turn leads into an exquisite electro-pop cover of the samba classic, “Brazil.” But, these change-ups are done smoothly and without the head spinning effect that Fantasma could sometimes have.

His choice of radio and TV samples, his thorough grasp of American pop music and even his choice of moniker all suggest an intimate understanding of American culture. This would seem quite a feat for a Japanese lad whose grasp of English isn’t so hot. But, according to Keigo, it makes more sense than many Americans realize.

“After Japan lost the war to America, it's become a mixed culture full of American, European and not just Japanese,” he explains. “There isn't really a pure Japanese culture.

“I don't really understand English much, so I don't know what people are singing about,” he continues. “But, there's a message that comes through music—which is a good part of music—and I catch the atmosphere/feeling through it.”

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