I went to see Daniel Lopatin perform as Oneohtrix Point Never in Glasgow last Saturday night, the gig turned out to be several hours later than I had expected, so alone(ish) in the big city I had little option than to sit around and invest in a few drinks. Lopatin’s music as Oneohtrix Point Never is not really the sort of music to be drunk around, it is an excess of blurred lines and swaying melody before the introduction of alcohol. Afterwards, it is just downright disorienting. So, there will be few words on the gig itself. Despite being totally absorbed by the performance, the memory of the details have disintegrated ungracefully into the ether. Thankfully, his new album gives me plenty to write about.

My first introduction to Lopatin’s work was last years Rifts release, a collation of 27 tracks from various 12″s and EPs. Whilst it was a lovely array of vintage noises, soothing synth and pleasing bleeps, it was slightly impenetrable. His work is often compared to that of Emeralds, who have also found a home on Mego recently, but I find it much colder, much less in synch with human emotion. It is a fairly predictable comparison, but Vangelis always comes to mind, and that incredible opening scene to Blade Runner. Both intriguing in its raw beauty and terror; but distant and hermetic.

So, with only 8 tracks on Returnal, and as a distinct album release, I was anticipating a much more cohesive record than Rifts collection. But, things aren’t quite as straightforward as that.

The first three tracks are presented as a triptych. Perhaps an ode to his new home on Peter Rehberg’s experimental Editions Mego label, first track Nil Admirari is a noisy introduction by Oneohtrix standards. Violent screams and dense machinated noise flows seamlessly into the pristine ambience of Describing Bodies. It is a somewhat inverted trilogy by conventional standards, started off intensely beat-driven before drifting into ambient territory. Where Nil Admirari works alongside Describing Bodies through contrast, its successor Stress Waves is similar in presentation, adding only slightly more structure to the loose waves of sound.

When I first read Pitchfork’s description of the title track as sounding like Fever Ray I was admittedly bemused and dismissed it as a lame attempt to associate OPN with a more mainstream alternative. But after listening, the comparison is entirely reasonable. Lopatin’s pitch-shifted voice is reminiscent of Karin Dreijer Andersson’s effect laden vocals. It is intertwined with layers of chugging arpeggios that seem to burst and evaporate into the distance as they come into contact with your eardrum. Occasionally, glimpses of a vintage synth hook come into focus, reminiscent of a synthetic pan-pipe from an imaginary 80’s advertisement for some tropical holiday destination; or perhaps being beamed from an advertising blimp presenting a utopian vision of life on the Off-World colonies.

The second side moves gently through varying pitches of otherworldy drone. Tracks Pelham Island Road and Where Does Time Go drift in and out of focus like the first bleary-eyed view of a new day. Lopatin is content to leave you to admire the raw quality of sound produced by the synthesizer’s, structure seems secondary, barely tangible. Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, a symbol of self-reflexivity, is a perfect example of OPN’s powers. Only two minutes long but perfectly formed meditative bliss. Preyouandi brings tension and variation to an otherwise drifting half. A lattice of fine colliding beats and chimes relates to the noisier elements of the opening track. Also, the vocals return. This time, amongst the gentle drumming they sound like an ancient transmission of an alien tribe, picked up on vintage equipment by an enthusiast astronomer. Preyouandi finally hints at some semblance of structure by referencing both Nil Admirari and Returnal.

So, despite the meandering inbetween, the lack of linear narrative, the album manages to come full circle. Generally, Lopatin seems relaxed enough just to allow his array of synthesizer’s do the talking, further distancing the impression of human interference. Each sound seems to be an instinctive response from the last, a natural phenomena, as if Lopatin has added the first few samples to a petri dish and then just watched the reaction commence. If I had a criticism, it would be that the sound palette remains limited, and apart from the introduction of some vocals, which are treated much the same way as anything else, nothing new has been introduced into the Oneohtrix repertoire with this album. But, to dismiss it based on this lack of progression fails to acknowledge the immersive and incredible quality of noise delivered. It can’t go on like this forever, but it is worth finding time to marvel at for now.

For an idea of what he might of been like to see live, for both our benefit, this has been captured by Ray Concepcion via Vimeo and Chocolate Bobka :

[Vimeo 12375308]

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