Oneohtrix Point Never
, November 4th, 2011 07:39
It's only been a short time since Rifts, a brain-meltingly brilliant compilation of Daniel Lopatin's early records, arrived back in 2009. But since then Lopatin has mapped out his own zone in electronic music, a unique space where the cough syrup-addled swagger of DJ Screw and the icy synthscapes found on Russian movie soundtracks carry equal weight.
Through his work as Oneohtrix Point Never, the hyperreal pop he's made as one half of Ford and Lopatin (formerly Games) and his hypnotic YouTube clips that resemble midnight transmissions from the dystopia of Cronenberg's videodrome, he's made a sci-fi world where soft rock, kosmische musik and sinister visions of the future intersect, with spellbinding results.
Both Rifts and last year's equally masterful Returnal were colossal records. They laid the listener in an isolation tank, hallucinating amongst their extraterrestrial terrain. The tracks on each seemed like they were the products of some sci-fi fieldwork, each one recording the atmosphere of a strange part of outer space.
Replica, then, marks a kind of transition. It finds Lopatin moving away from these huge, propulsive productions towards a more fragmented and sprawling approach, although those expertly judged, eerie atmospherics remain intact. Opener ‘Andro' is a good example, beginning on familiar territory with its spiralling melody and heavenly voices straight out the prayer room of Eno's Music For Airports, before it dives off to somewhere far darker. The threat of noise looms heavily at the edges of the other two albums - here it finally arrives in a huge, seething wave. Suddenly you're lost in a fever-dream jungle, complete with pulsating percussion, indecipherable voices and shrieking birds overhead. Bursts of noise and blizzards of static are to be expected from Lopatin, - he began by making evil-sounding music and he still sticks to the motto, "everything is noise", a remnant from his days in the abrasive underground.
It's those strange, gibbering voices that separate Replica from its predecessors. Vocals, usually Lopatin's own, chopped 'n' screwed into a heartbroken sludge or massed until they sound like the howls of animals lost in some inhospitable region of the Arctic, have appeared before. They remain, but here their purpose is different. Many of the voices are samples taken from old ads, which would probably just be a hypnagogic gimmick if Lopatin wasn't so skilled. In the style of some eager musique-concrete professor, he manipulates and loops phonemes and soundbites until they become rhythmic components, swirling and stuttering. The technique itself is nothing new - just think of Steve Reich's early work It's Gonna Rain where the cries of a preacher, endlessly replicated, start to sound like some exhausted machine - but it has a spooky potency when it's set adrift on those waves of synth.
Inevitably there will be some pining for the focus and propulsion of Rifts and Returnal. But what makes Lopatin so exciting is his desire to concoct 'noise without borders', free from genre restrictions but still consistent with the delirious logic of his earlier 'computer visions'. All three albums (and those three Rs invite us to think of them as a trilogy, don't they?) have a deep sense of melancholy at their centre, mourning the passing of time and the disappearance of a certain kind of future. Despite its playful starting point, the mood on Replica is no different, with almost everything enveloped in a thick, numbing sadness.
A controversial soundbite now, made with typical bluster, by Noel Gallagher: "any fucker can make dance music now... it's a walk in the park". Put simply, nobody else could make music quite like this, no matter which part of the electronic fringe they might call home. Daniel Lopatin is in the zone.