Oneohtrix Point Never
(Mexican Summer; 2011)
By P.M. Goerner | 22 November 2011
When I caught the chicken pox at age four, my gracious mother gave in to my four-year-old desire to watch Flight of the Navigator over and over for a week. It’s true that she won’t allow me to mention those four words together in her presence to this day, under threat of murder-suicide, but her willingness to suffer a certain psychotic fate in order to soothe the dejection of a toddler/leper is beyond commendable. Thanks, Mom. On a similar note—which will become similar in no time (I swear)—my dad is an electrical engineer and may very well be to blame for these viral bouts of formative technophilia in the first place.
Ultimately, the point of this primer on the basics of my family tree is that, based on relevant details surrounding my deep subconscious, I feel a particular attraction, a kinship, with Brooklyn-based Daniel Lopatin’s works as Oneohtrix Point Never. An admitted synthesizer amateur in search of the humble nirvana of “cool sounds,” as well as a professed proponent of “anything that reminds us of our dads working,” Lopatin speaks in a binary I can process. In that week I spent reliving the same moments of satisfaction, I learned, much as I’m sure Lopatin did in any number of parallel moments, that the idea of technological replication can take hold of the mind like a virus, and once it’s hit the bloodstream, it’s unlikely to fade away.
After showing off the breadth of his skills with this year’s collaborative work as part of the Jan Hammer acolyte duo Ford & Lopatin, Daniel, I think it’s beyond fair to say, has officially made a name for himself as the reigning ambient auteur of the 2010s. He’s a master of pastiche without nostalgia, his works bound to their inspirations more exclusively through method and physicality than through a need to capture an old-fashioned state of mind. It’s this careful distinction that allows him freedom to test the standards of his genre in more relevant ways than most: choosing just the right touches of familiarity, seemingly out of personal attachment and not out of the search for a shifting sense of authenticity, he finds immeasurable expanses in which to truly play. He may be reaching back through the evolution of his inspirations with as rabid an eye as any two-bit nostalgic replicator, but the difference is that his old-school tones are as filtered through modern sensibilities as the most forward-looking of his contemporaries, constantly churning and losing themselves in a rising tide of baptizing static. It’s the sound of an old world not only recaptured but interpreted by new eyes (er, ears) again and again—and if I’ve learned anything in my years since surviving that cursed pox, it’s that it isn’t what you see but how you see it that really matters.
Lopatin refines his technique, as always, on Replica, this time carving into more sample-heavy territory than that represented by his last couple years’ work. Playing bearded Frankenstein to a disembodied pile of samples excised from the unmarked graves of a hundred ‘80s TV commercials, recasting them as fresh spirits awash in his trademark Borealis glow, Lopatin mines the mysterious music at the core of the chaos of a million digitized voices, and offers up a richly immersive sixth album under the Oneohtrix moniker.
The first notable difference between the initial taste of Replica and the general feel of Oneohtrix Point Never’s previous material: this time the sun rises instead of sets. “Andro” opens like the crack of dawn; a familiar keyboard choir gazes out over the whole of Lopatin’s digital universe. Tones touching on the pins-and-needles key washes of the richest of Channel Pressure’s (2011) tracks break like waves before sinking into a saturated VHS vista, beams of Doppler-ized foghorn spreading slowly out into the Juno mists. Here he leaves overtly familiar territory behind, stepping ever further into an uncharted digital dreamscape, harshly clipped vocal samples, pensive piano figures, and a library of strange sound effects taking center stage, serving as building blocks in a series of subtle but rewarding reflections on cryptic transformation. Even the catchiest of Replica ’s tracks, the tribal “Up,” is eventually smothered and swallowed by a shimmering ocean of Technicolor whispers. I’ve never enjoyed bleak endings quite so much.
On the surface, Replica’s focus on the measured emergence of harmony seems to capture a bit of the modern struggle to find some sense amidst a constant bombardment of careless repetitions, to uncover a beautiful pattern in the digital noise of the everyday. Lopatin’s trademark buzz and drone still immunizes the whole of Replica from sounding like anything other than Oneohtrix—he still knows the value of limiting himself to a barebones toolbox that makes him readily identifiable—while maintaining every interesting aspect of experimentation necessary to the confident evolution of his sound. Lopatin may be drawing from some of his earliest impressions about art and technology to touch on my own similar formative experiences, but no amount of repeated listenings could be sure to ever lessen my enjoyment of Replica. If only Flight of the Navigator held up so well.