Chemical Brothers / Cornelius
So, OK, yes, I spent more nights last year standing with my arms crossed in rock clubs than standing with my arms crossed in dance clubs (and still more nights than that sitting cross-legged at home watching Law & Order). But even if the paradigmatic shift that was supposed to divert our interests from guitars to samplers never really took hold (unless you count that damn Wiseguys song--and, please, don't), the electronica wave left in its wake a considerable sea change: Now more than ever, we as listeners are willing to listen to sound as an end unto itself, separate from its role as a delivery device for lyrics or personalities or any other extra-sonic element.
Surely, no other big-ticket boom-time vets appreciate this rearrangement of priorities more than the Chemical Brothers, England's principal ambassadors of big beat to the United States. Back in 1997, lots of people thought the form might catch on, sure fodder for young people accustomed to the stomp and crunch of rock. Yet luckily by their third album, the still-compelling Surrender, the Brothers realized how much they were missing and opened up their sound as wide as can be, rendering come-down psychedelia as a treasure trove of humming whole notes and legitimately transcendental beats. On the new Come With Us, they continue that freewheeling fascination with pure sound: Current single "Star Guitar" is practically a reverb solo, so hallucinatory do its processed guitar and vocals seem on top of a rock-steady rhythm track, while "Hoops" actually makes an unlikely electro-acoustic odyssey out of a pilfered chorus by baroque '60s popsters the Association. And "My Elastic Eye" marries Bjork's love of blown-glass music-box tinkering to the sleazy synth squelches of Miami bass. Still, for all their gestures toward a smarter, more holistic body of music, these guys remain the modern masters of the kick drum, a fact the title track, which wonders how many times a riff can be recapitulated, makes abundantly clear.
Keigo Oyamada, who after his beloved Planet of the Apes character records under the name Cornelius, might just be the modern master of everything else. As Japan's principal ambassador to the West of the Shibuya-kei aesthetic--a wily, cut-and-paste approach in which various international musics rub up against each other with varying degrees of camp and pop-culture self-reference--Cornelius has been widely publicized as the forebear to American artists like Beck, who have brought that musical miscegenation to bear in songs that celebrate sex between willing electric appliances. On Point, Oyamada's new album and the follow-up to his fascinating domestic debut, Fantasma, he luxuriates in the infinite possibilities of pointing and clicking, hard-wiring chewy Gang of Four proto-funk to lilting lounge to acoustic bossa nova to swirling headphone effluvium. Like surfing Web pages as opposed to reading a book, Oyamada's journey doesn't cling to a narrative drive like the Chemicals' does (even if that drive is no more than the arc of recreational drug use), but in the post-rave age of sound for sound's sake, doesn't plot seem a little quaint?
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