Cornelius/ Natural Calamity | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Cornelius/ Natural Calamity 

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The Japanese invasion continues: this week the granddaddy of Tokyo's pomo popsters barnstorms into Chicago. On his U.S. debut, Fantasma (Matador), Cornelius (aka Keigo Oyamada) hijacks electronica's dice-and-splice MO to concoct his grandiose pop-rock fantasies, making wild stylistic leaps as nonchalantly as you might change the channel on your TV. The bio that accompanied my copy of the album claims it's a tribute to "stadium stardom"--and Cornelius does sell out arenas in Japan--but to my ears it sounds more like an obsessed and impatient pop fan playing DJ with a really big CD collection. From the playful rock references in the song titles ("Count Five or Six," "The Micro Disneycal World Tour," "Clash") to the way the Beach Boys meet My Bloody Valentine at the intersection of chorus and verse in "New Music Machine," Cornelius seems to be sampling not sounds but entire genres, inventing vibrant combinations of cool bossa nova, silly cartoon music, manic drum 'n' bass, raw garage rock, blissed-out pop, and goofy sound effects. The disparate tropes jostle one another constantly, and you never know if they're going to mingle or brawl--which adds nonstop aesthetic tension to the already high level of excitement. Many of the new pop internationalists don't try to reproduce their confections outside a studio, but Cornelius plays live with a real band, beefed up with a spectacular multimedia attack that includes meticulously synchronized and often hilarious big-screen video. The music doesn't say much, but it sure says it with style. Natural Calamity, also from Tokyo, is the duo of Shunji Mori and Kuni Sugimoto, and their U.S. debut, Peach Head (Ideal), is mostly simple, languid bass lines and reverberant guitar arpeggios--which they seem content to repeat endlessly--accompanied by live and looped drums from a variety of accomplices. In between the woozy vocals of guest crooner Stephanie Heasley, the music sounds like a catatonic version of Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk"; the instrumental "Jessica," for instance, swipes a lick from Hendrix's "May This Be Love" and spends three minutes dilating it. Natural Calamity's sluggish breaks earmark its music as trip-hop, but apart from the Howlin' Wolf sound bites that pepper "In the Wee Wee Time," the stuff is almost sample free. The band's a one-trick pony, but it's a nice trick--hopefully they won't stay onstage until they exhaust it. Friday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Cornelius photo by Norishi Namura; Natural Calamity photo by Martin Holtkamp.

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