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.