Remix Mania!

Artists who remixed 'Fantasma' songs include Money Mark, the High Llamas and Coldcut.

Cornelius, the recording alter ego of Japanese studio whiz and Trattoria

label owner Keigo Oyamada, does a lot of remixing, and he usually does it

as a reciprocal deal: he'll mix a song by a band he likes if they will, in

turn, do a mix for him. FM offers versions of the songs on last

year's Fantasma album tweaked by the likes of Money Mark, the High

Llamas and Coldcut, and CM is Cornelius's takes on most of the same

artists' recordings. Significantly, though, they're both being released as

Cornelius albums. No matter who else is involved with his recordings, they

can't help but sound like his work: hyper-produced, lush, focused intently

on surface effect and often a little lacking in depth.

Both FM and CM are astonishingly slick records -- so slick,

in fact, that they can be hard to pay attention to, like big bowls of candy

sitting in the middle of a room. There's not too much to the songs he's

written, so when FM's remixers take them apart and put them back

together, they're very similar to the way they started in a lot of ways.

Damon Albarn of Blur tries to turn "Star Fruit Surf Rider" into a minimal

glam-bop piece, with swooping strings and somebody intoning "you're a

star!"; Konishi Yasuharu of Pizzicato Five throws apropos "Planet of the

Apes" sound effects into "Count 5, 6, 7, 8." But it all sounds just like

Fantasma anyway: Cornelius is his own deconstructionist. Only the

High Llamas' take on "The Micro Disneycal World Tour" really stands out --

Sean O'Hagan is capable of figuring out how to make any recording sound

like an instrumental outtake from the Beach Boys' Smile, which is

exactly what he does here.

Meanwhile, Cornelius' approach to mixing other people's music is

essentially to take out everything that doesn't sound like a Cornelius

record and add a lot of stuff that does. You'd expect that to work nicely

with artists who care as much about form and as little about function as he

does, but it doesn't, really. His version of U.N.K.L.E.'s "Ape Shall Never

Kill Ape" pairs up a hardcore punk two-step with film-music strings and

showers colorful effects, Malcolm McLaren samples and old movie sound bites

on top of it. It's an ingenious combination, in theory, but the hardcore is

bloodless and received, the movie stuff suggests the medium rather than any

particular message, and it all adds up to nothing in particular. Similarly,

Buffalo Daughter's "Great Five Lakes" is sustained in its original version

by an acoustic-guitar groove that inverts the *motorik* beat of old

Kraut-rock; Cornelius tosses most of it out and sets the band's cute unison

singing to an overloaded, twinkly a!

nd much more generic track.

The other surprise, though, is how much care he puts into preserving the

essence of real songs -- recordings that originally focused more on the

composition than on the mix. Money Mark's "Maybe I'm Dead" gets a witty new

setting with a Casio tootling a funeral march, and the remix of the

Pastels' "Windy Hill" is the highlight of the disc, treating its fragile

vocal gently but decorating its simple strum with little effects that

flutter around it like brilliant butterflies. Cornelius is a gifted

producer in the line that runs from Phil Spector to Trevor Horn and Steve

Lipson, but unless he has something substantive to build his walls of sound

around, he can end up with an empty, sealed chamber.