Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven

It's been three years (give or take a month), and Returnal - the first proper studio album for Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never - remains one of my all-time favourite and utmost fulfilling listens, despite its young age. OPN may be an alias many will be familiar with nowadays - Replica's stunning shift from drone-fuelled emotion to sample-led mystery and prevalence - but at a time when his name was barely floating about the wave of hype, 2010 was truly the year where I witnessed first-hand the power of waning electronics, harsh frequencies, and the musical narrative to which production can play such a pivotal role in. Since then, Lopatin has continued scampering between genres with two more studio releases, a set of EPs...and now, for Warp (which was the biggest surprise; hands up those who honestly didn't see that unveil coming), arguably his most dissected, but more importantly, most compelling of musical identities that shows no putting-off of the R-trend. And where Returnal & follow-up Replica played their audacious deliveries to full effect, R Plus Seven hopes to not only follow those albums' suit, but also capitalise on Lopatin's catapult into the interested circles of contemporary electronic music. 

The one point that must be made clear then, is that Lopatin - more than he's done admittedly on previous records - seems to disconcern himself with secondary musical attributes such as lead and connection. While his interest on movement and rhythm remains as strong as it's ever been, R Plus Seven prevails in demonstrating OPN's desire to branch out from the roots of his early drone and ambient background - instead favouring a context-driven abstraction of melody and song-writing. Boring Angel may set listeners up for a brief, slightly morbid chapel setting with its dank organ keys and thickening air. Yet it's the follower-on of conflicting, strutting and quite rampant synth patterns and the immediate withdrawal it brings, that grabs the listener. While there is a build present, and the organ layers aren't entirely erased from the formula, it's the suddenness of the rhythm and pacing - and yet still managing to offer that former enclosed organ tone - that provides the track's closing briskness and organ press, with that added intention. 

Americans by contrast comes across more panoramic as if, in reference to its title, Lopatin is attempting some manner of accumulative surmising of said country's cultural and mannered differences. In result, we have one of the album's most conflicting yet surprisingly engaging pieces, texturally. Everything from the city hip-hop references of the beats, to the aesthetically calming textures of what I myself picture as natural landscapes (forests, rivers, plains, canyons). The track isn't particularly introspective to such vast locations. Rather the multitude of musical builds, act simply to soar us over the scenery, rather than journey through it - a view but never one seeking to gather greater intel. And yet, even as the track ends and we're greeted by a vastly shorter composite in the form of He She, when Lopatin aims to expel finer hairs of detail via use of simpler musical/vocal snippets, the effect is structurally superb. The shaken choppiness of the vocal samples, while reminding me fondly of a track like Sleep Dealer or Child Soldier, here feel more direct and less concerned with sustaining rhythm. Momentum is present, but only through the track's severed-like skewing between placement. In effect, the focus on the detailed textures and friction caused by the vocals, come through remarkably cohesive and strong. 

That's not to say functional rhythm or progression are unaccounted or left to daunter amid Lopatin's atmosphere. Inside World goes on to reinstate the effect vocals can merit when treated as an appliance on tone, rather than of lyrical subjection. The decision taken - the way the vibrant ghostly voices shunt in and out of perspective amid these fairly limited uses of keys to begin with - does create anxiousness, if not totally argumentative or unstable. Yet despite this slight hostility, the fact Lopatin can offer an exchange between his synthesizer drone and sharp violin strings - while still focusing on the strain of such a projection - shows that OPN strives to challenge even himself when outlaying such a narratives in his music. It's no surprise Zebra pops up, perhaps with literal intent, just as the focus turns to that of a self-initiated challenge on maintaining atmosphere and emotion. Amid what is a near-seven minute piece siphoned into numerous brief movements, everything from the vocal-shifted haze of vocals to the regurgitating echo of synth loops, to the texturally gritty fracturing of electronics; no matter where we find ourselves, OPN maintains a level of complexion and interest by asserting the track's underlining use of distance. And in effect, the comfort/withdrawal it ends up bringing, is fully laid on the listener. 

The great benefit though, is that Lopatin's source material seems to originate from numerous points. Again, in reference to Replica, OPN aims to capture moments rather than opportunities; sounds that emanate on a particular emotional and visual level, treating it afterwards with productive techniques such as sampling, repeating, transforming and even distorting, to create a visage that's both alien yet familiar at the same time. The scarce jazz and new-age mentioning on Along for example appears conflicting and to stand against one another's spatial positions. Yet Lopatin offers these aesthetics more, again, like snapshots; repercussive and psychological rather than physical; a revisit that's as much invoking as it is nostalgic. So even when the production choices shift again to a more direct or discreet delivery from the present tense as is the case with Problem Areas, OPN still treats his rampant synthesizer loops and chopped vocals like moments rather than layers. The erratic nature to the percussion and the fairly ball-bearing fluidity of beats are wholly smooth and unfiltered, yet the relationship they hold with the lesser active parts of the music make the track feel a lot more trans-spatial than necessarily static or forced-upon. 

But it's clear Lopatin strives to convect his narrative in two different forms of dialogue: one through the robust, rhythmic variant whereby beats and synths sustain pace amid OPN's abstraction of concept and surroundings. And the other meanwhile, a lot more self-absolving; a practice Lopatin has worked with to brilliant effect in the past. His instrumental simplicity and the producer's hat concerning immersion, analysis and most of all impact, are firmly planted here; Still Life being the first of what is Lopatin's paired showcase of merging clarity of instrumentation with the foggy retelling of personal connection. Here the track follows with numerous blurbs of vocals that once more have little textual value, and instead act like a kind of escapist catalyst - helped on by the straining synth layers and elevation of ambient harmonies that delivered onto us in ruptured in-and-out presence. But it's Chrome Country where OPN truly takes both his keyboard playfulness and loose vocal extracts, to superb effect. The synths are minor and only just coast into the track; attention instead focusing on Lopatin's scampering piano just out-of-shot and the innocent by-standing of childrens' singing that, while lacking human/organic quality in favour of a notational one, seem to do just as well (if not better) at reinstating a sense of stumbled-upon lost innocence despite such loose, and quite baron, ambivalent sounds. The very wavy tone to the piano and synths equally perfect this, and it's a great easing (even if the emotions at this time may have been tugged towards something more melancholic) for the listener before Lopatin ends on a bloating of organ keys that stretch open the space before us. 

I'd be lying if I said I'd never stumbled upon a similar album with projective magnitude and use of notation, of this level that even from hearing just a group of crotchets or such, I could already feel something well up inside me. There are some great achievers of this effect: Kid A is; Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is; Discovery is. Many [electronic] albums are. What Oneohtrix Point Never manages to deliver however - to contrast against all those albums - is a sense of emotive and narrative alignment that initially has no correlation whatsoever. R Plus Seven isn't an album built on rules. If anything, its mission is to break said rules: disconnect them, disfigure them, realign them and thus, redefine what it truly means to obtain a connection with a piece of music. Daniel Lopatin shows no mercy when it comes to abstracting his themes - turning them on their head and watching the sparks fly. It's worked for him in the past, and here, it's gained him even more results. It was Picasso who once claimed that 'good artists copy...' and '...great artists steal'. Oneohtrix Point Never might not be stealing our emotions per se, but he's without question reinstating what it's like to react to something we might not know first-hand, but we'll certainly remember...once the smiles have dropped, and the tears - reluctantly - have ceased to flow.



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