Cornelius' Fantasma gets Deluxe Vinyl Reissue and Full-Album Tour

Posted by Kells, August 2, 2016 10:46pm | Post a Comment

Over the last few decades selector, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Keigo Oyamada has earned international renown for consistently dabbling in and dishing out albums bursting with busy layers of ingenious pop culture regurgitations and delightfully distorted experiments in sound and vision. Arguably the most enduring and timeless of these is Fantasma—the third solo album he created as Cornelius, released in the U.S. on the Matador label in September of 1997. Back then, it seemed that nigh on every bit of Japanese pop culture was perfectly hep in some way or another, and Matador was killing it in 1997 by pushing not only Fantasma, but also records from "world's loudest" garage rockin' power trio Guitar Wolf and Cornelius' fellow champions of Tokyo's Shibuya-kei pop scene Pizzicato Five, thus solidifying said (literally "Shibuya-style") 90s pop movement as "a thing" trending stateside.

Original Video from 1997 release of Cornelius Fantasma:

Nearly twenty years have flitted by, yet Fantasma sounds just as fresh as its first mic check. To attempt to describe its sound is to strap oneself into the ride once more, for the album plays like a carnival thrill ride of edits, commanding you to let go and let the whole thing take you from beginning to end, climbing up and careening over, under and through a myriad of genres, implements of music making, seemingly endless samples, bleep-bloops and obvious nods to movies like Planet of the Apes, Amadeus, and bands like The Beach Boys and My Bloody Valentine. And when the ride comes to a complete stop, there often remains a curious feeling of having been thrust through a familiar yet foreign fantasyland looking-glass. Perhaps that is the very definition of Fantasma.

That said, it's about time this sweet baby received a deluxe reissue treatment. And, what's more, Cornelius may be coming to a town near you to perform the Fantasma album in its entirety, the first show of the tour kicking it off this Thursday August 4th at Oakland's Fox Theater. What's even more? Buffalo Daughter badass babe Yumiko Ohno will be playing Bass and Moog in the Fantasma band, and Nosaj Thing is set to open (confirmed for at least the Oakland and Los Angeles shows at the time I type this). If you've never had the pleasure, Cornelius live shows are a truly mesmerizing, not-to-be-missed experience of tight-tight-tightly synchronized sounds, light show hypnosis and other visual projections. There is also the likelihood that you— yes you!—may be selected to play theremin on stage with the great ape himself. I'm going! (See confirmed tour dates below)

But what of the record? The remastered album out on Lefse/Post Modern boasts noticeably cleaner sound or at least the absence of some ambient airiness and pockets of field recording feels that I fancied clocking while listening to the old Fantasma though headphones (with a cheesy "knowing" nod to the Cerebreal side of Something/Anything?). For me, and I think 90s-era completists would agree, the real treat is the addition of bonus tracks to the double LP as they were previously only available if you hunted down the Fantasma singles. The particular inclusion of the terrifically trippy "Typewriter Lesson", among the other bonii jams, lends perspective to the process of fixing Fantsma's boundaries, and also sounds like it might be a harbinger of Oyamada's future collaborations with the one and only Takako Minekawa. Compared to Matador's initial un-fussy and nearly-nude offering, the pleasingly detailed and appropriately commemorative album artwork is a very welcome upgrade and is more in cryptic-creamsicle sync with the kooky content within. Check out this nifty "unpacking" video below: 

Don't miss Cornelius nor Fantasma! Get the Indie exclusive deluxe remastered 2LP version on orange wax at Amoeba and get thee to the par-tee! See the tour dates below (looks like there will be more dates to come)!

Takako Minekawa emerges from a thriteen year hiatus with Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong

Posted by Kells, June 20, 2013 05:26pm | Post a Comment

Sometimes the wait for new material from a beloved recording artist can feel like an eternity, especially when their last album presaged a significant shift in one's personal musical tastes. In February of 2001 I picked up Takako Minekawa's Maxi On! on a heavy vibe-induced hunch (the cover art called to me for reasons I'll never understand -- this kind of thing happens to me all the time) and it forever changed the quality of pop music I seek and enjoy. I spent the next few years digging into her extensive back catalog, digesting it rapidly while anticipating a new release that never came. So began my fascination with an artist that had seemingly just shelved her career as a keyboard-collecting, color obsessed, cat-loving experimental electro-pop singer/songwriter indefinitely.

Twelve years later and I honestly can't remember the last time I checked Minekawa's near dormant website for news or scoured the interwebs for any new transmissions indicating fresh airs from one of my forever favorite recording artists. Then the other day a co-worker (and kindred spirit who knows me very well) uttered the words, "hey, have you seen that new Takako Minekawa album? We have two!" Gobsmacked. Yes, gobsmacked is the best word for my reaction to this query. No, I hadn't seen it. I hadn't heard it or heard of it, but I am listening to it, again, right now, all fifty seven minutes.

I also hadn't heard of (ex-Ponytail) guitarist Dustin Wong until yesterday but my opinion of him as a man and a musician are highly colored by the fact that he deserves hella mad props for luring Takako Minekawa out of her thirteen year hiatus. Known for his intricate solo performances where he delicately loops guitar pieces via a bow-shaped arrangement of various effects pedals, Wong's working approach to music-making doesn't sound all that different from Minekawa's methods, that is, if you switch out the guitar and pedals for a drum machine and a phalanx of precious keyboards. With those similarities in mind their collaborative debut, entitled Toropical Circle, sounds a lot like you'd expect it would. Only, it actually sounds better than I expected, but then that's a testament to the kind of vintage hype that only a baited long-ass waiting period can buy. 

The album erupts with the single, "Party on a Floating Cake" -- a title that sounds like it could've been a throwaway from Maxi On!. Though it begins with a blippy, looped prelude the momentum shifts as Wong's sunny, surf-inspired guitar twangs mingle with Minekawa's trademark breathy vocal wisps until the layers of guitars and synths, piled high and teetering at this point, finally waffle into a sort of false ending that feels anything but finished (think: just about any track from Blonde Redhead's 23). At first listen I mistook this as an ill omen for the record as a whole, but I found that each track overall reflects a sprightly and playful organic genesis that sometimes sounds loosely composed in a random jamming (i.e. "experimental") fashion while otherwise showcasing the technical prowess of the two gurus behind this sonic mixed bag. I especially like the track "Swimming Between Parallel Times" as the woven illumination of the instrumentation resembles a piece that OOIOO might've dreamed up during one of their heady gamelan orchestra collaborations. There are also many shimmering magic moments pulsing throughout Toropical Circle that bring to mind another collaborative effort, Tujiko Noriko and Aoki Takamasa's 2005 album 28 (though the vibe there was more late night neon seduction rather than coltish pastel whimsy and stratified "Mary Had A Little Lamb" tangents).

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Piko Piko - A look at Picopop on the 34th birthday of Yellow Magic Orchestra's debut

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2012 12:44pm | Post a Comment

Back in 1978, on 25 November, pioneering Japanese group, Yellow Magic Orchestra released their influential, eponymous, debut full-length. The album and group are widely credited with being very influential on the development of several music genres, including ambient, chiptune, electrohip hop, house, J-pop, synthpop, and techno, to name a few. 

The band (also known as YMO) were also on influence on another Japanese scene that emerged around the dawn of the 21st Century, picopop (or ピコポップ). Bands and performers such as EeL, Hi-Posi, Motocompo, Plus-tech Squeeze Box, Sonic Coaster Pop, and Strawberry Machine updated the shibuya-kei (渋谷系) style popularized in the 1990s by Cibo MattoCorneliusFlipper's Guitar, Pizzicato Five, and Original Love by adding some good, old fashioned, electro elements with a sensibility that often recalls YMO.

Capsule in shibuya-kei mode --> Capsule in picopop mode

Shibuya-kei had initially drawn largely on bossa novajazz, lounge, and yé-yé. In the late 1990s and early 2000s it began to evolve into "picopop" for for the "piko" sounds of classic game sound effects and scores.  Some acts, like Capsule (カプセル), began their careers making shibuya-kei before thoroughly transitioning into picopop. Others, like Yukari Fresh Colorful System, combine elements of both closely associated scenes.


Usagi Chang (Little Bunny) Records is the label most associated with pico pop although Motocompo's Shibuya-based label, Poplot and Columbia Nippon's J-Pop branch, Heat Wave, also released popular picopop albums. In the past few years, abcdefg* have released (and re-released) picopop recordings.

The amount of electro elements vary from performer to performer and often song to song. Perhaps the sometimes ridiculously twee, kawaii, visual aspect is almost as important as the music. Judge for yourself by sampling the following picopop videos and happy birthday Yellow Magic Orchestra!

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box


Cubismo Grafico

The Aprils

Macdonald Duck Eclair

Hazel Nuts Chocolate


Strawberry Machine 




naivepop or petitfool


Laugh &


Other artists to check out for those so inclined include: ColtemonikhaMisswonda, EeLSonic Coast PopNagisa Cosmetic, and Copter4016882. Ja!

Update: In 2013 American singer from San Gabriel, Joanna Wang, released an album (Galaxy Crisis: The Strangest Midnight Broadcast) that marks a stylistic shift into Picopop -- probably one of the first Americans to work in the genre.