Review: Cornelius, Mellow Waves

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Some records are perfectly named. OK Computer sums up its contents well. SMiLE by the Beach Boys, too. And not always classic records or even good ones — Bad Blood by Bastille was close, they should have left out the second word. Or 4x4=12 by Deadmau5 was as wrong as the solution to its math problem. Some records are just named perfectly. Mellow Waves by Cornelius is one of those records, but don’t worry, its named well in a good way.

Opening track “あなたがいるなら” which translates to “If You’re Here” is wave after wave of slow, rhythmic indietronica, ambient pop and Cornelius inimitable rhythmic singing. Drum machines stop by and leave, Graham Coxon-inspired guitar work abounds. Which is great because Cornelius probably inspired Graham Coxon. The track continues to fold onto itself like a massive audio origami and then it fades away, leaving only the original, wet piano which playfully tinkers as our ears recover from the rich journey.

“If You Are” isn’t a fluke, this record is stellar. “Sometime / Someplace” feels like riding a computer controlled magic carpet through space and that isn’t just because of the trippy music video (link). “Helix / Spiral” grooves like an email collaboration with Super Furry Animals. “Surfing on Mind Wave Pt. 2” is one of the deepest ambient movements of the year. I want to hear part one. When the echoing synth stars descend on the top of the digital gulls, we have arrived at the island of Cornelius.

The audiophiles won’t be disappointed, the gentle reverb on the keys at the start of “夢の中で” is simple, deep and compelling, and the late night karaoke funk that follows only sweetens the deal. “Mellow Yellow Feel” is named after the 90’s Mountain Dew rip off soda, or that Donovan song, or a crepes restaurant in my home town, or perhaps none of them, because the track isn’t sugary, creepy or obscure. It's rather an exercise in tension and movement, like the best Cornelius songs. And it succeeds, although the guitar solo feels oddly high in the mix.

“The Spell of a Vanishing Loveliness” is reminiscent of those fantastic James Iha tracks buried on the Smashing Pumpkins b-sides collections in the 90’s. The switching between Japanese and English is engaging and less weird than you would assume, and like Phoenix, Cornelius is adept at writing in a second language in a simplistic way that doesn’t sound foreign, just fresh.

Overall, Mellow Waves sits nicely in Cornelius’ discography. Not as scene as Fantasma or exploratory as Point. This record uses the studio magic in a more utilitarian way — to complete the songs rather than create them. But that’s not to say he has given up on tricks. He still somehow uses instruments like other instruments like he did on Point and he does it better than anyone. Fela Kuti used electric guitars the way we use percussion and it gave his music the lift from African Jazz to Afro-pop. Well I mean, it was Tony Allen’s drumming too and a bunch of other factors, but that specific change felt the most unique. Cornelius plays his voice like a drum pad. He soars synthesizers like BGV’s, guitars become metronomes and percussion layered like house music, but replacing consistency with surprise. B PLUS