DANIEL LOPATIN AND his awkwardly-named Oneohtrix Point Never project have been garnering acclaim for several years now via sites like Pitchfork and magazines like The Wire, a fact that will probably attract some enthusiastic punters while warning off the weary.
His often gentle, ambient-oriented creations won’t sound too experimental or new to anyone over 40, and that same demographic might be shocked at just how much some of his tracks resemble the previously derided ‘new age’ genre. Trends change, and it’s now cool to make sweet, reflective, tender wee instrumentals just as it’s cool to write pretend-John Carpenter slasher scores. Go figure.
Of course, if you listen carefully to OPN you’ll soon realise that minor chords are favoured, and that there is as much doubt and negativity embedded in these superficially calm tracks as there is awe and wonder. And hey, if Brian Eno can make lovely ambient drones, then why not Lopatin?
With its Warp label debut, however, OPN has gone through a substantial change of character. R Plus Seven is much busier than before, and its 10 tracks really amount to one continuous collage-in-flux that incorporates the kind of swirling arpeggiations Terry Riley used on his classic A Rainbow In Curved Air, with irruptions of cartoon cut-up voices, ethnic forgeries (to take a line from Can), faked orchestrations and organ dirges.
The ideas are good, and Lopatin is great at getting across an indeterminate mood that the listener can’t quite crack, but can immerse himself in. There’s little obvious internal logic within tracks that are wont to stop suddenly and lurch in a totally different direction, but then, some of the most gratifying sound-works (Faust’s first two albums, for example) do exactly that to great effect on repeat exposure.
My problem with R Plus Seven is probably exactly what the Y-generation love about his stuff: it sounds like all its raw materials have been thrown willy-nilly into an old 1980s sampling keyboard like a Fairlight (or a cheap cousin thereof), where they have been sliced and diced and reproduced for the delectation of expectant ears. It’s a particular sound that I remember from too many ‘80s pop records, and one that was utilised by more experimental artists like The Residents and Holger Hiller to achieve spectacular results… for the time.
OPN is essentially a collage-style sound-world, and collage works best when it’s organic, with smears of blood, and three-dimensional deposits of skin and bone to make it come to metaphorical life before your ears. By contrast, R Plus Seven sounds like its sonic architecture has been reduced to a flat matrix, pre-digested by the machinery and oozed out in computer language. And this observation applies as much to the micro-timings and tunings and the texture of the music as much as the overall sound.
While there’s a huge amount of promise in Oneohtrix Point Never and Daniel Lopatin’s work, I wish his new label had organised a meeting of minds with Eno, who may have convinced the artist to look at his methodologies anew. I guess there’s always a next time.
Meanwhile: worth a listen. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5/5
Sound = 3/5