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By Michael Henningsen

MAY 26, 1998: 

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Fantasma (Matador)

More than anywhere else--even Texas--the spirit of psychedelia thrives in Japan. There's little difference between current Japanese noise terrorists like Jojo Hiroshige or Eye Yamataka and late-'60s cryptoanarchists like the Red Crayola. My favorite Japanese pop band, Pizzicato 5, spike their lounge-pop and '70s disco with wiggy sound effects and spoken interludes as mind-expanding as anything waxed in 1967.

Cornelius (nom de tape of musician/producer Keigo Oyamada) takes playful experimentalism similar to P5's and uses it to enhance/subvert/ruin (depending on your tolerance for this kind of thing) extraordinarily catchy guitar pop, so that the Apples In Stereo-like "Star Fruit Surf Rider" sits comfortably next to the pop-culture-mad sound montage "Magoo Opening," and the gorgeous "Seashore and Horizon" (featuring lyrics and vocals from the Apples' Robert Schneider and Hilarie Sidney) is regularly ripped apart by trippy tape manipulations.

Cornelius is quite the student of pop history: Song titles namecheck the Clash, Microdisney, the Count Five and Five Or Six, while others crib titles from ABBA ("Thank You for the Music," featuring Sean O'Hagan) and the Beach Boys ("God Only Knows"). The Beach Boys cop is particularly telling, since it feels like their Smile project; Curt Boettcher's Sagittarius and Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle are direct influences on Cornelius' aesthetic. Not that Fantasma particularly sounds like any of these albums, though the opening "Mic Check" strongly recalls Parks' purposeful playfulness and the CD-ending title track features some spine-tingling wordless multipart harmonies quite similar to Smile's "Our Prayer" and "Well, You're Welcome." The excellent CD booklet even impeccably recreates a couple of mid-'60s photographs of Brian Wilson!

Pop Stalinists might be put off by the sonic trickery, and those who feel that bands as relentlessly boring as Semisonic and Fastball are somehow producing listenable music might simply be puzzled and irritated, but if you're into artists who somehow making something fresh and exciting out of musical elements you might have heard a hundred times before, Fantasma (as well as Cornelius' four previous Japan-only releases) is for you. !!!!1/2 (SM)

The Creation

Our Music Is Red With Purple Flashes (Diablo)

You must buy this album right now. Some reasons why:

  1. The Creation were the coolest band of the 1960s. This includes the Velvets and the Beach Boys. The Creation were cooler than both of them together.

  2. The title of this singles anthology is a quote from Creation guitarist Eddie Phillips (who died late last year), which both sounds really cool and perfectly describes the band's sound.

  3. Phillips was the first British guitarist to use a violin bow, most prominently on the singles "Painter Man" and "Making Time." Jimmy Page freely admits that he stole this idea from Phillips. Now if he'd admit that he stole all his songs from Mississippi bluesmen. ...

  4. Besides Phillips' guitar-scraping, the visual highlight of a Creation set came when singer Kenny Pickett sprayed a large canvas with flaming paint. Beat that, Townshend.

  5. Pete Townshend was in fact so impressed by the Creation that he tried to break the group up, offering Phillips the job of second guitarist in The Who. Somehow knowing that it wouldn't be long before rock operas and booze ruined what was once a pretty good band, Phillips wisely declined.

  6. The Sex Pistols apparently considered stealing both "Painter Man" and the action painting gimmick, but wised up.

  7. The Television Personalities, who are way cooler than the Pistols anyway, covered that song, "Making Time" and the Lichtenstein- (and Batman-) inspired "Biff Bang Pow!"

  8. Creation Records was named after the band. Creation owner Alan McGee named his own band Biff Bang Pow!

  9. Along with the above-mentioned gems, Our Music Is Red With Purple Flashes contains the anthemic, classical-tinged "Life Is Just Beginning," the churning "How Does It Feel To Feel" and every other side of every single the band released in its regrettably short 1966-68 lifespan.

  10. You must buy this album right now. Really. !!!!!
--Stewart Mason

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