It's like music you hear in a dream - abstract, dissonant sounds that float and converge. Then precise layers of instrumentation - electronic bleeps, burbling synths, rubbery bass lines and spliced vocals - build and build before dispersing into glimmering, echoing bits of sound.
Sensuous, the title of the latest album by ambient-pop artist and producer Cornelius, lives up to its title. The CD sparkles with whimsical, mostly electronic music that never settles anywhere.
"The album is 46 minutes [long], but I tried to create a world within that 46 minutes, another universe," says Cornelius, who headlines the 9:30 Club in Washington tomorrow night.
Speaking last week through an interpreter while at a tour stop in Los Angeles, the Japanese artist says the motivation behind Sensuous was to "create a world to blend in with the listener's."
To do that, Cornelius, whose real name is Keigo Oyamada, largely worked outside of pop music structures. But here and there, glints of punk-rock and dance-pop surface on the album. The different musical textures - like the brilliant shades of blue, yellow, red and black paint illustrated on the album's cover - free-flow and bleed into one another.
"There's a connection to the artwork," Cornelius says. "The connection is that - depending on who's looking at it - the art is different. It changes depending on the person's senses. The music changes depending on the listener's senses."
Sensuous is a sleeker follow-up to 2001's Point, Cornelius' last album.
"The previous album was more simple," says the artist, whose pseudonym comes from a character in his favorite movie, Planet of the Apes. "There were no limitations with Sensuous."
An acquired taste, Cornelius' music has garnered a sizable American fan base over the years. But he's a much bigger star in his native Tokyo, where the 38-year-old musician started his career in the early '90s. He came to prominence in the city's Shibuya-kei scene, where musicians wildly fused elements of jazz and electro-pop. As half of the Japanese pop duo Flipper's Guitar, Cornelius was key in establishing the sound.
By 1993, however, he had gone solo, self-releasing The Holidays of Sun EP that year. He followed it up with his first full-length album, 1994's The First Question Award, and became a teen idol in Japan. Three years later, he made his American debut with the critically acclaimed Fantasma, a colorful, unpredictable mash-up of rock, hip-hop and baroque pop that drew comparisons to Beck.
In pushing his approach on Sensuous, Cornelius wanted to explore sounds and melodies that evoked wind. Chimes fade in and out of the spacious mix.
"Previously for the Point recording, the sounds created images of water," the artist says. "The wind chimes doesn't limit the imagery. It doesn't specify what you see."
The visual element of Cornelius' music translates to his stage show, which includes four backing musicians and synchronized lights and video.
"The music makes pictures," he says. "The music awakens the imagination."
See Cornelius at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W. in Washington, tomorrow night at 9. Benevento Russo Duo is also slated to perform. Tickets are $15 and are available at tickets.com or by calling 800-955-5566.