The music of Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) is designed to disorientate. That’s not to say that the producer purposely wants to freak you out, but it’s the by-product of music that purposely messes around with established sound associations in our brains. Working in the realm of synth-based electronic music, he takes sounds out of their original contexts and assembles them in new, strange compositions. The results can be jarring, unsettling, nostalgic or beautiful – sometimes all at once.
In the past he’s explored particular themes on each record, but here, on his first self-titled album, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, Lopatin presents an approximation of his career to date. He dips in and out of the sounds of his haunting, sample-based opus Replica, the early computing sounds of R Plus Seven, and the grunge and nu metal textures of Garden of Delete, among other works. These are presented in the format of a radio transmission from some sort of alternate reality; the album title is a reference to the OPN origin story (he misheard the name of Boston FM radio station Magic 106.7 and an alias was born). In many ways this is the perfect presentation of OPN music – snatches of vaguely familiar sounds, cutting in and out, flipping from genre to genre.
And I don’t mean that this takes place neatly from song to song. Take ‘The Whether Channel’. Any Nintendo Wii fans in the house? This sounds like the music from its main menu for its first half, before collapsing in on itself to drop a rap verse in its second. Or ‘Imago’ which opens with a looped vocal sample like those featured on Replica, then fades into some ethereal, melancholic keys reminiscent of Burial’s Untrue, before revealing some beautiful strings. ‘Tales from the Trash Stratum’ sounds like the garbled transmission of multiple people talking, then the soundtrack of both the opening titles and the in-play action of an early 90s video game. Confused yet?
Yep, experimental music is the name of the game here, folks. But this is a good entry point into the OPN universe in a way, because Lopatin alleviates the more abstract moments with some of his most conventional music under this alias. ‘I Don’t Love Me Anymore’ sounds like a straight up alt rock song, albeit with Auto-Tuned vocals from Lopatin himself. ‘No Nightmares’ is a lullaby that harks back to Lopatin’s vaporwave days, complete with star turns from Caroline Polachek and The Weeknd. ‘Lost But Never Alone’ has 90s rock textures, very evocative of his 2015 Garden of Delete record.
Of course, all of this is very descriptive without saying whether it’s any good or not. Well. The radio format is both an ideal stylistic choice and a drawback. Lopatin’s OPN music fits it very well, and several listens down the line I’m marvelling at the record’s construction. But by its intentionally scattershot nature, it loses the more immersive aspects of his previous work. Replica and Garden of Delete, my favourites of his records, both encourage repeated listening through the sheer worlds that they create. Here, there are great moments, but there are also bits that distract. I’m a big fan of the likes of The Weeknd and Caroline Polachek – but I don’t want their familiarity on an OPN record.
Put it this way: though it’s more accessible than normal, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never isn’t for everyone. It’s not a record I’d play at any mythical 2020 party. It’s music that requires patience. Listen to a Oneohtrix Point Never album once and you will come away thinking “wtf was that?” That’s very much the case here. But return, let it wash over you and you’ll be rewarded. This isn’t my favourite OPN album, but it’s another impressively constructed work from an artist who never fails to intrigue.
Because like the best albums, it needs to be consumed as a whole – and though individual highlights are hard to pick out, it’s about the cumulative experience. It closes with ‘Nothing’s Special’, a title which I thought was a good approximation of the song on the first few listens. But on a clear, peaceful day towards the end of this stressful year, it just clicked and I was floored by its beauty. Give it a go.
Words by Tom Burrows.