Japan’s Keigo Oyamada, a.k.a. Cornelius, is often touted as a modern pop savant, and it’s for good reason. There are few things as gleefully disorienting as a Cornelius album, and Fantasma, his 1998 U.S. debut, is just the kind of sonic tapestry that can keep its listeners as simultaneously confused and enthused as a horde of drunken animals.
This, the fruit (ha!) of Cornelius’ mind, appears on record just as it does on the cover, as if it was the smoke rising from Oyamada’s cigarette, forming a cartoonish haze around his head. For all its simplicity, the artwork says a lot about the album: the sunny orange tint; the stencil-y style that shrouds Oyamada’s face; the presence of something *ahem* smoked. Each track has its own distinct sound and structure, and listening to the work from front to back gives the impression that the ways each transition flows or disrupts is just as important as the songs themselves. The result is less like a collection of tracks and more like some sort of audible collage — the work of the smoking orange man on the cover.
Since the album covers a good amount of styles and samples between tracks, instead of picking the best ones, it seems more appropriate to have a listen to the more eclectic works present. This track, somewhat eccentrically titled “The Micro Disneycal World Tour”, is the second track on the record and seems to sum up the state of Oyamada’s mind as he was arranging the album. It is a strange title, but I couldn’t think of one that represents the sound better — sort of like an homage to the soundtracks of old Disneyland parades and a riff on the sound/imagery play that Disney’s Fantasia did so well. It might also uncover a link between the album name (Fantasma) and the modern-day live show at Disney attractions (Fantasmic!).
The track chugs along with the cadence of the best parade you’ve ever seen, with band leader Cornelius summoning all sorts of twisted symphonies and joyous onomatopoeia. The sound, a harmonious balance between cheerful and off-kilter, carries through the track as well as the entire album, but does well to delineate tracks, as you can hear with how drastically this one cuts off. The next track, “New Music Machine“, has tons of feel-good harmonies and jangly guitars, fitting in well with “Micro Disneycal”, but it starts off with a screech of guitar feedback that throws off any headbobbing long enough to let you know it’s time for a different song.
One of the other tracks that gives a glimpse into the album as a whole is the second to last on the tracklist, a fittingly titled “Thank You for the Music”. Starting with a raucous collection of samples and sound effects, the track eventually “eases” into a chorus of Corneliuses and a plucky banjo/harmonica hoedown. In essence, this number is the curtain call to the album, presenting an overt farewell and an auditory review of various soundclips heard throughout the album. On one hand, you could listen to it like a horrifying and overwhelming shroomy flashback, and on the other, it’s like the gag reel at the end of a film — the kind that shares a split screen with the credits.
Of course, there’s one last track on the album, and while “Thank You” is ostensibly giving credit to the sources Oyamada draws from, the final tune and title track sounds like an attempt at something purely original — a 55-second, choral passage that serves as punctuation to a whirlwind of a record. The last sound we hear is a low hum from Cornelius himself, sustained to point where he has to take a huge breath afterwards and an immediate sigh of contentment.
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)