Cornelius aka Keigo Oyamada has widely been regarded as one of the most important figures in contemporary Japanese music, whose innovative albums have gained something on an international, as well as a domestic, following. So, it is only natural that his first album of new material in five years should require one’s avid attention. However, it seems that little progress has been made since 2001’s Point.
As I have always preferred Fantasma, his third solo album, it’s something of a disappointment that the absurdity and upbeat nonsense that made Fantasma so unique is largely absent. Instead, it is largely another batch of experimental pop incorporating electronic tones, everyday noises and Oyamada’s restrained vocals. And while it is true that no-one else makes music in quite the same style, the end result lacks the uniqueness that made Fantasma so damn enjoyable. Nevertheless, it is perhaps unfair to dwell to much on past efforts for comparison, as while this album may not be Cornelius’ best, there is still much to gleam from the dozen tunes on offer here.
It seems that Cornelius must love wind and love the sound of tinkling, as windchimes bookend Sensuous. You could probably split the album in two between the more ambient soundscapes (such as Omstart and Like a Rolling Stone) and the guitar-licked beats of Breezin’ and Fit Song, yet both kinds have an airy, drifting quality. While it is nice to have something of a running theme, it also makes the tracks all seem to run together, with few that properly stand out and others that can only really be considered filler material. However, the ones that do stand out are certainly worth the effort.
The only track that sees Cornelius properly rocking out is the fast-paced Gum, filled with charging guitars and cymbal crashes as voice samples echo back and forth from all angles. It’s as close to Free Fall as one gets this time round, but it’s satisfying enough. Upcoming single Beep It is not especially clever but has a neat beat and manages to be pretty funky. The aforementioned Like a Rolling Stone is soothing and dreamy, as is his cover of Ratpack standard Sleep Warm. It’s just a shame that his brilliant cover of YMO’s exquisite Cue that appeared on the Breezin’ single release doesn’t appear here.
But perhaps the best track on Sensuous is barely a song at all. At just over a minute and a half long, Toner seems to be Cornelius at his most pure, using piano and electronic blips and sound effects to turn the menial task of printing out a sheet of paper into something more playful . It’s like listening to someone remix Microsoft Windows start-up noises, but much better than that sounds.
As a result, Sensuous is something of a frustrating experience, feeling a little soulless and hollow at times, but with just enough flashes of brilliance to leave me sure that Cornelius has plenty more imagination and creativity to offer. I just hope that next time, his talent takes a more refreshing direction. And that we don’t have to wait another five years.