Tuesday, April 12, 2011

90's Hit Parade #72

Cornelius - Count Five or Six

When I worked in Santa Monica, I would sometimes listen to KXLU, the only real indie station operating within Los Angeles. It's a cool station: it was the college station at Loyola Marymount College, and when the trustees decided to defund it, the students basically kept it alive as a listener-supported station, with the DJ's giving away mix tapes as giving incentives. You couldn't get it in on my side of town, but I sometimes listened on my commute. And to be honest, most of the time I was a little bored by it: here it was, 1998, and most of what they played sounded to me a lot like Sonic Youth, Big Black, Mudhoney or Sebadoh. I found it a bit disheartening that this was the most interesting stuff they could dig up. But there were moments when the station really impressed or delighted me. One day, leaving work, I cranked up the car and heard some strange music with a shiny, cartoonish sound over a hip hop beat. I really liked it. Right after came something that sounded like an exceptionally rocking Sonic Youth song with a catchy Beach Boys-esque vocal harmony on the chorus. Then a quiet, almost exotica-like song, again with the vocal influence of the Beach Boys (even had a Woo-ooh-ooh on the chorus), and then this thing posted above, with robotic counting in various time signatures overlayed with heavy metal guitar riffs. "Man," I said to myself, "they're playing some great stuff today. I gotta find out who some of these bands are." When the DJ finally came on to back announce, I found out that this was ALL THE SAME BAND. He had been playing the entire first side of Cornelius' album Fantasma.

The shorthand phrase people used to introduce Cornelius at the time (my friend Zane talked to me about him maybe a week after the KXLU incident, and sent me a dubbed cassette of the album) was "the Japanese Beck," a phrase which could make certain music geeks (eg, me) nearly explode with excitement. It was two years past the release of Beck's Odelay, a revelatory work that I was sure would spawn dozens of exciting copycats and offshoots. And yet no one seemed to be following the lead. I kind of think I like Fantasma even more than Odelay, but at any rate they are easily my two favorite works of the latter half of the 90's.

I strongly considered not including anything from Fantasma on this list, because the nature of the album is so cumulative that individual songs lose their impact when isolated (I think the same is true of Odelay), but I decided I just had to use something from this one. The obvious choice would be "Magoo Opening" (up until a couple minutes ago, I thought the title of this track was "Monkey," and I had always referred to it as such), but that's not really much of a song, is it? "Count Five or Six" has the same sensibility, but is a bit more developed. My point is, BUY THIS ALBUM.

Bonus Beat: DJ Shadow - The Number Song

Because these two songs seem to go together nicely, and because I don't have any Shadow on my list, which is probably unforgivable (again, he's more of an album artist than a singles artist).


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