The rise and rise of HAAi
“I feel like I belong in the era of the impressionists and not the futurists,” Oneohtrix Point Never’s Dan Lopatin told me in a recent interview for The Guardian. With previous releases, most notably with last year’s ‘Returnal’, he has displayed a great sensitivity to reading the mood, mode and tone of our ever-present. Now, with his new album ‘Replica’, Lopatin has marked himself out as the greatest impressionist of our times. A replica is an impression of an original but, like anything recalled, there is always something off, some difference that tells us more about the original that it ever could. A work that is at once deeply spiritual yet also utterly indifferent, that is heavy with sorrow yet also riddled with humour, ‘Replica’ is a deeply moving album about memory, media and mortality.
Loops so split-second small that they manifest in a skipping sensation, a stuck moment, pervade ‘Replica’. For Lopatin loops are both device and metaphor, representing the mechanics and behaviours of memory. Our memories are built on moments, comprised of circling layers of the moment itself, the instant recall, the memory and the repeated act of remembering (and misremembering) all blurring into one. Caught between Lopatin’s loops and layers are fragments of incidental things, the ephemera that somehow gets stored away with our most precious memories: snippets of television jiggles for forgotten products, the residual sounds of domesticity, the echoes of repeated actions.
‘Replica’ is a master’s study of how memory both accrues and degrades. A hundred strange beings and objects scurry and rattle across the landscape Lopatin has painted as if escaping from their proper place, the way our memories muddle over time. It recalls WALL-E’s perfectly categorised boxes of debris, and their momentary decline. Taxonomy was one of the first ways in which we understood the world around us, and one of the first things we lose in old age: the ability to name and place all that surrounds us, all those images, sounds and memories.
One of the most flooring things about this record is its recognition of that omnipresent affliction of our media-governed times: emotional fatigue. ‘Replica’ recalls and records that empty space where emotion used to live. Child Soldier is the starkest example. Opening with the video game battle cries and space invader fire, it is by turn funny, strange, beautiful, sad. That juxtaposition – calling it Child Soldier – jolts the focus. This horrific, exploitative reality the name of a song so uncomfortably beautiful. It jars, and yet it doesn’t jar. It evokes the de-sensitising impact of rolling 24-hour news, endless video games, the ever-scrolling internet. These things wash over us, over and over again: building layers, triggering loops, scarring memories.
Yet countering that fatigue are flashes of deep emotion. In that way, ‘Replica’ often has the quality of a Michael Mann film. Those extended, often abstract, stretched-out scenes, in which the rich, dense colour on screen bleeds into the narrative and vice versa. Moments of painful poignancy made all the more so for their context – like that moment in the fast-paced, ludicrously story-lined Collateral when grey haired, gun-on-the-run Tom Cruise stares at a fox padding slowly across the road against the blurry lights of the night.
That pause, that deep breath, is what lies at the core of ‘Replica’: that moment in which our own mortality is fleetingly remembered. Final track Explain, the most extended moment on the record at almost seven minutes, is that feeling unravelled in slow motion: sadness, trepidation, tiredness, calm acceptance, bliss, a rush of memories all becoming one. A swan song to a life remembered.