When the Japanese electronic artist Keigo Oyamada released his third record “Fantasma” on Matador Records in 1997, it sounded unlike anything else in stateside record stores.
Its psychedelic pop recalled the modular songwriting and instrumental variety of “Pet Sounds”-era Beach Boys, and its painstaking sampling was just close enough to “Odelay”-era Beck to appeal to the indie kids.
But at the same time, its eclectic mix of rock, jazz, electronic and pop music felt distinctly Japanese, rooted in the genre-bending Shibuya-kei that was thriving in Tokyo shopping districts.
It’s been 11 years since Oyamada, who records under the name “Cornelius,” released a proper LP, but he’s kept busy, delving further into electronica with his recent “Ghost in the Shell” soundtracks and remixes. Last week he returned to the album format with the gorgeous and easy-going “Mellow Waves.”
It’s a record that drifts even further away from “Fantasma”‘s giddy glow than his experimental 2001 record “Point.” “Mellow Waves”‘s opening track “If You’re Here” floats lazily through tremolo-pulsing bass notes and a melancholy guitar line, and the meditative vocal melody that carries “Dear Future Person” captures all the yearning that its title implies.
If there’s anything similar in his discography to “Mellow Waves,” it’s the wistful, subdued cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Cue,” which served as a B-side track from his prolific “Sensuous” sessions in 2006.
But while that track found Oyamada singing in English, his latest record finds him singing exclusively in Japanese. The only English comes from a feature by Lush’s Miki Berenyi, who contributes vocals to “The Spell of a Vanishing Loveliness.”
While his delicate voice serves to carry the melody for most of the album, Oyamada also understands the value in letting a track speak for itself, as he does on the instrumental palette-cleanser “Surfing on Mind Wave, Pt. 2.”
It’s remarkable that an album in which every note sounds meticulously sampled and mixed can feel so emotive.“Mellow Waves” succeeds in a creating a singular, pensive ambience.