Cornelius, “Mellow Waves”

Cornelius
Mellow Waves
ROSTRUM
8/10

Twenty years have passed since Cornelius’s sugary cut-collage classic Fantasma, and the Japanese electronic sound sculptor known for excursions in Shibuya-Kei has grown in ways unimaginable from that elastic landmark. There have been several bold stops along the way—the found sounds of 2002’s Point, the time he spent working in Yoko Ono’s ensemble, his scoring of the Ghost in the Shell: Arise, playing as part of Yellow Magic Orchestra—and they’ve all inspired Keigo Oyamada’s return to the retro-future.

But Mellow Waves, Cornelius’s first studio album since 2006’s Sensuous, is a more deeply provocative and warmly emotional work than anything in his past—a feat it accomplishes without eschewing his neo-camp aesthetics. Like Air without the sensual breathiness, Mellow Waves welcomes kind, breezy guitars and soft pastoral synth-strings into its mix as a signal of frolic. There’s a sense of genteel fun to be found in the cottony exotic jazz of “If You’re Here,” while “In a Dream” toys with romance in a way that Fantasma never imagined.

Those who loved the future-forward Esquivel!-like innovation of Shibuya-Kei, never fear: Mellow Waves isn’t so mellow when it gets to the dizzyingly robotic rock-out of “Helix/Spiral” and the almost comical denouement of “Sometime/Someplace.” Still, as an overall experience, Cornelius’s too-long-away new album is sweetly fun, not funny.

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