Oneohtrix Point Never completists rejoice – Software will release a bumper sounding boxset of early and rare material next month.
East Coast meets West Coast as Brooklyn’s Oneohtrix Point Never and Los Angeles artist Rene Hell contribute to the second split LP release from the NNA Tapes camp.
Following up last year’s Returnal was never going to be easy for Daniel Lopatin; it felt very much like a focused encapsulation of the sound that he had been developing over his early career rather than a significant step forward. Heavily reliant on arpeggios and synth drones emanating from his Roland Juno-60, his sound then was one that, although distinctive and utterly engrossing, was already perilously close to the edge of self-parody, something not helped by the waves of imitators that have followed in his wake.
Replica isn’t a total reinvention of Lopatin’s music, but it is a reinvention of the way he creates it. Using his Juno-60 as the backdrop for much of the tracks, he utilises audio culled from television advertisement compilations as the textural focus of many of the tracks, recomposing what would otherwise be quaint oddities as sweeping statements of emotion. “Power Of Persuasion” for example takes various piano loops and embeds them within a drawn out synth horn solo evoking Vangelis. It’s not totally different from his earlier work, but somehow, with that extra layer to filter his sound through, Lopatin’s emotionally ambiguous music is given an entirely new dimension.
As an album it’s much more rhythmically driven that previous material; “Sleep Dealer” takes a number of tiny loops including breathy sighs, a flute solo, and unidentifiable trilling and arranges them in a regular stop-start manner which recalls James Ferraro’s similar magpie-like approach to sampling, but without the garish, ADD nature of his creations. “Sleep Dealer” even has the rhythm and mood of the club buried within its stop-start structure, as does “Remember” with its soulful vocal loops trapped within its sludgy core.
Whilst “Up” goes so far as to include sampled percussion embedded within its swelling strings, the rhythmic effect is usually quite subtle; “Child Soldier” is a maelstrom of 8-bit video game sounds combined with vocal stabs and swooning pads. But whilst these strange rhythms are a key component of the album, they also create a weird feeling of inertia; loops skip like a broken record, preventing motion. Infinity has always been a core theme of Lopatin’s work but instead of the otherworldly drift of his previous work, Lopatin uses his equipment in a new way to create those show-stopping cinematic moments that were always his forte, by locking the listener into their own headspace.
The undoubted centrepiece and highlight of the album is “Replica”; much like the track at the core of his last LP, “Returnal”, which also gave the album its name, it stops you dead in your tracks. This synchronicity doesn’t seem like a coincidence; Lopatin is a master at punctuating his music with moments of drama. Coming out of the comparatively neutral “Remember” and going into the weightlessness of “Nassau”, its haunting piano sticks out like a sore thumb, but as much as infinity is central to his music, its relative scale is difficult to comprehend, and “Replica” offers an anchor point which breaks the album’s spell long enough to create an emotional wormhole into to his engrossing, complex sound.
It’s amazing how certain pieces of music can still sound fresh and revolutionary 20 or 30 years after their initial release. This is a more frequent occurrence in rock and pop music than in the electronic sphere, where improvements in technology often render old recordings obsolete. While there is usually a certain raw charm to early examples of synthesizer-heavy electronica, very few records of this ilk have dated well. Some early industrial records have lasted well, but only because they were so confrontational and out-there in the first place.
Chris Carter’s “Moonlight” has aged wonderfully. Originally included on the Throbbing Gristle man’s experimental 1984 album Mondo Beat – something of a sought after classic for fans of synth-wave – it has gone on to achieve cult status thanks to its unique combination of sparse, bubbling electronic rhythms, ambient chords and darting, alien melodies. It’s considered by some to be an unlikely Balearic classic, and a re-edited version appeared on the first ever Mindless Boogie 12” a few years back.
Here, it gets a deserved re-release on JG Wilkes and JD Twitch’s Optimo Music label. Twitch has long been a fan of Carter’s work and included “Moonlight” on one of his synthwave mixes a few years back; furthermore there is even a fanboy style write-up about how great the record is on the Optimo website. Listening again, it’s hard to better the original for atmosphere and raw emotion; even now, 27 years after its original release, “Moonlight” is a powerful record. Yet for this re-issue, Twitch has taken the bold step of commissioning two new remixes.
There’s a certain sense in getting Oneohtrix Point Never to reinvent the record; his experiments with vintage synthesizers and electronic equipment could be seen as a kind of continuation of the experimental work of Carter, Throbbing Gristle and others. Certainly, his take on “Moonlight” is faithfully adventurous, recasting the bubbling and melodic original as an eerie drone-scape full of endless chords, discordant electronic noise and cacophonous reverb. It barely resembles Carter’s original, but it comes from the same place.
The other remix comes from John Selway’s Neurotic Drum Band project, the New York act who’ve impressed with some decidedly atmospheric electronic disco releases on Wurst. Wisely, they choose to retain many of the original elements, adding some moody new sounds to give the track extra potency. Like the near-faultless original, the results are weary but inspired.