For some reason, whenever I hear the words ‘Japanese’ and ‘pop’ together in a sentence, several unpleasant images come to mind. I think of billboard-sized Britneys selling their virginal likenesses and diluted, Westernized vocal standards to the attention-deficit pre-teen throngs, their identities shared like the latest soda pop. My mind then wanders toward disco-primped, polyester prima donnas inhabiting some gloriously raunchy dancehall in the sky, where supermodel hipsters spin with homegrown post-punk slobs, and girls from Ipanema spew ten languages worth of psychosexual spittle to a pseudo-big beat background.
Perhaps these implausible visions are merely part of an endless summer on planet Tokyo for pop fetishist Keigo ‘Cornelius’ Oyamada. His latest release, Point, begins with a single keyboard note, but soon expands to include an entire range of influences/obsessions: Brian Wilson, bossa nova, progressive metal, marijuana. The range makes for a unique, extremely eccentric audio experience.
The album starts with “Point of View Point,” beginning an album-long theme of repetition with one guitar chord struck over and over as layer after layer of Oyamada’s overdubbed vocals harmonize on top of one another in an almost a capella style, quickly recalling Wilson. Like the Beach Boys’ leader in his most experimental phases, Cornelius seems taken by the idea of the studio as another instrument, leaving each beat and strum of the guitar covered with a digital residue that reminds me of another Japanese pop moniker: Fantastic Plastic Machine.
I might call “Smoke” the most traditional rock song on the album, with a standard guitar line and chorus, which is a testament to Cornelius’ more innovative qualities. Eastern-flavored musak paves the way for the album’s standout track, “Drop,” where the one-man super band rolls off Japanese melodies underwater. A bubbling sound and resulting cough are none-too-subtle references to Cornelius’ drug of choice. On this number, superimposed vocal lines seem particularly effective in evoking a dreamlike submarine state.
“Another View Point” is the most groove-oriented song, sporting distorted computer tones flashed around a single bassline, reminding me of early video game soundtracks. “This is called a deja vu experience,” relates a commercial vocal sample, though Cornelius’s impression of a kitsch-encrusted past sounds much more like the future.
After a slow instrumental session and more predictable pop number, “I Hate Hate” sounds like the artist’s audition tape for Metallica, with its frenetic start/stop thrash rhythms and an almost punk rock immediacy that gives way only for self-indulgent guitar solos. Yet the most telling song on the record is his interpretation of the standard “Brazil,” when he uses computer-generated vocals and tinkly drum machines to create an artificial space-aged bar band. Just as the last track “Nowhere,” a pseudo bossa nova instrumental, rolls along, it occurs to the listener that Cornelius is a master of camp, yet he is not quite weighed down by this devotion to questionable taste. In fact, he has made it his own in all seriousness, with equal value assigned to craftsmanship and karaoke. It should not come as a surprise that Cornelius is a fashion designer as well, and I, for one, can imagine his clothes to be as colorful as his music.