[NOTE: The previous version of this entry was misinformed on some very key details, an error which was pointed out to me by a representative from Kranky Records. This has been amended, with my thanks for the correction and apologies for the misinformation. Apologies also to Mr. Bradford Cox, whose album did not enthrall me especially but who provided cover art for the Coathangers album, which I did love.]
This year, I bought into a whole lot of hype (on separate occasions) and bought two heavily praised albums from Kranky Records: The Stars of the Lid and their Refinement of the Decline by Stars of the Lid and Cryptograms by Deerhunter. The Stars of the Lid album is a valiant effort to be Brian Eno circa 1980, and the Deerhunter one is a valiant effort to be Kevin Shields. They are both very lush and atmospheric and in my (very, very unpopular) opinion, really boring. They're not bad per se: I appreciate the ambition of both groups and I respect their skills technically. These albums are certainly better music than a great deal of bands out there. But I feel like I've heard what they have to say before, and I liked it better the first time.
Cornelius made a big splash in the 90's with an album called Fantasma that had everyone saying he was the Japanese equivalent of Beck. Much like Odelay-era Beck, Fantasma was a massive hodgepodge of styles that went together with no rhyme or reason other than the brilliant impulse to do so, and to keep the whole thing light and frothy and amusing. It was put together with an overwhelming sense of whimsy in mind, and it turned out great. Beck got older and produced Sea Change, and now Cornelius has gotten older and given us Sensuous. It is soft and light as a feather, it balances acoustics and electronics seamlessly, and manages to pull off the amazing feat of being both calm/mature and still playful. He can write meditative music that still feels like he's laughing while making it.
Cornelius, Deerhunter, and Stars of the Lid all seem to be attempting to pull off a style that is as much felt and seen as heard. It’s auditory, but in a very purposeful way that is designed to involve the imagination in other ways as well. The difference to my ear is that Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid are begging to be taken seriously (and should be), and Cornelius doesn't need to be taken seriously (but can be anyway).