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Cornelius makes his Point, reconfiguring pop in unpredictable ways

Like many countries, Japan often seems to simply reflect the popular culture of the United States, regurgitating pop, rap, and rock as each style comes along. In recent years, that relationship has dramatically changed, as new Japanese artists have risen to the forefront of global pop culture, crafting music as creative and bold as anything on the world stage. Foremost among these Asian innovators is Keigo Oyamada -- aka Cornelius -- a sonic auteur whose work is as catchy and accessible as it is odd and unpredictable.

A long-celebrated star in his native land, Cornelius launched his assault on America in 1998 with Fantasma, an album of unrepentantly bombastic, Bubblegum-tinged electro-pop. The record and subsequent U.S. tours made Cornelius a household word here, at least in the kitchenettes of the indie pop and electronica sets. (His name, of course, was famous here once already, as the moniker of the kindliest character from Planet of the Apes.) His long-awaited follow-up, Point, is a calmer, more subtle effort, giving stateside fans a fuller impression of his range. The CD opens with a dreamy patch of ambient froth worthy of Kraftwerk, then nimbly drifts from genre to genre, touching on clockwork, King Crimson­style angularities, multitextured cricket-and-bird-laced exotica, screeching, guitar-based grindcore, and a majestically synthetic rendition of Ary Barroso's "Brazil," the most widely recorded song in the world.

Trattoria Records
Trattoria Records

It's anybody's guess what Cornelius will do during his San Francisco concert this week. In the past he's synchronized instruments to images of Elvis and hula dancers, brought costumed monkeys onstage to dance, and recorded an extra channel of sound that listeners tuned into via headsets (the latter idea was later swiped by the Flaming Lips). The multimedia stage show for his current tour is based upon Point's wild diversity, so it's a pretty safe bet that Cornelius will go wherever his boundless, playful muse directs him.

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