2010: Why Oneohtrix Point Never is our artist of the year

31.12.10

Oneohtrix Point Never is Daniel Lopatin, a Boston-now-Brooklyn electronic musician who spent recent years making woozy experimental and dreamy, ambient-noise music. Having released the highly acclaimed compilation ‘Rifts’ on No Funs last year, the synth-noise master did not cease to surprise again this year with his fourth album entitled ‘Returnal’ on Editions Mego. Listening to ‘Rifts’, a compilation which consists of the Lopatin’s first three full-length albums ‘Betrayed in the Octagon’, ‘Zones Without People’, and ‘Russian Mind’, and a selection of some rare, limited, and out-of-print cassette and CD-R releases which go as far back as 2003, I hear a nostalgic sound of the future. It is almost like a soundtrack made in the 70’s or 80’s but edited with lots of spaced-out and calming language of synths to give a cosmic, dark, yet ambient atmosphere. ‘Returnal’ offers me the same sensation; only it further intensifies the new-age drone by inserting even more minimalistic repetition. Lopatin’s manipulation of his vintage Roland Juno-60 (the beloved synthesizer he inherited from his father which he names Judy) lets the synth-lines swirl around like amorphous lasers, forming an ambient landscape which is so ahead of its time, mapped with more characterisation than ever before. Lopatin’s splitting record is never plainly clear-cut; fractured, layered, and echoed are the beautifully deft sounds of ‘Returnal’.

It is impossible not to mention Lopatin’s guise as Sunsetcorp on Youtube where he shares his homemade lo-fi videos soundtracking half-remembered 80’s songs and compiling unrelated retro footages of Japanese electronics commercials and Serbian broadcasts. The infamous Nobody Here featuring the never-ending rainbow road from a laser disc game commercial in 1983 with the line ‘there’s nobody here’ (a sample of Chris de Burgh’s Lady In Red) looping over and over again is hypnotic; whereas Angel pioneers the entire idea of dreamy, nostalgic time-travel as we are brought back in time as Lopatin cuts up and loops Fleetwood Mac’s Only Over You. Embracing the 80’s pop aesthetics, his ‘new old video’ effortlessly carries a certain romanticism which maximises its appeal. Angel is practically rendered as a conventional love story attached to Lopatin’s ever-so-slightly dismal yet stylised sprawl of an unswervingly beautiful and often overwhelmingly devastating effect.

‘Returnal’ basically defines 2010 for me. The days and nights I spent in my room listening to the remarkably mystical and psychedelic album is countless. Sounding slightly like an off-key and out of pace video game soundtrack, Nil Admirari takes me immediately on an epic cosmic journey to another galaxy. Although similar to his previous soothingly drone albums, ‘Returnal’ comes armed with a frenziedly strident and noise-excessive, or should I say, mind-explosive opening track which fires off to establish a perfect and intense preface before it leads me into a rhythmless, hallucinatory zone. A relatively more tranquil and peaceful state of mind is brought about by the following glacial tracks, Describing Bodies and Stress Wave, which in turn sets the ambience flawlessly to the album’s only vocalised title track. Lopatin’s forlorn and hazy vocal performance composes a dark, murky, and melancholy imagery, guiding me through his carefully constructed psyche journey from the spacey beginning to the static, gloomy end. Pelham Island Road faintly changes the lifted-up mood and restores things back into Lopatin’s deep creation of his gallantly calming synthed-up cosmos. Perhaps the most spine-chilling musical aspect of ‘Returnal’ is its permeate visual craftsmanship. So often a track would sound as if extended and refined just to be uncovered upon closer listening as a simple phasing pattern or solely an extra synth line arousing emotions. The dense landscape, though, is so overpowering it is beyond thought-provoking; allow me to say, ‘Returnal’ is one exceptionally deep, mind-blowing mindfuck.

BleeD which launched in October was Lopatin’s third gig in London this year. Among the likes of other experimental synth fetishists such as Oni Ayhun and Veronica Vasicka, Lopatin’s emotive live set was hauntingly sensational. Walking down the hallway of the club, I could already feel his synth-fabrication. Once in the main room, I felt a firm, vicious throb pounding in my heart. I made it just in time when Lopatin started; as soon as he stepped on stage he turned in the club into a gigantic three-dimensional ambient-noise black hole, like an isolated region from which we could not escape. He stood in front of his mixer and controller deck in complete darkness; no visual effects were used. There was a minimal stream of red light coming from the ceiling to give an eerily interesting effect, making the electronic overlord the spotlight on his own. His delayed voiceful chanting merged into the free-form and digitally twisted synth sounds, rather like Boards of Canada meets Fennesz meets My Bloody Valentine but ten times slower. My friend referred it as music for National Geographical, which, in some way, I concur. The extravagant synth lines are like birdsongs which positioned me in a rainforest, whereas the chaotic melody glides smoothly across the woods with the tropical birds. I felt that Lopatin was trying to recreate a similarly disjunct world in his set which is evolved from ‘Returnal’. Music was as still spacey as forever but there was an extra oscillation of restful synths versus shoegaze drone. As he drops Pelham Island Road he gave an impression of a sublime and empyreal obscurity in which he captured the superdark night view of his favourite road in Massachusetts via sound. Lopatin’s storytelling live show is brought together by a flux of wavering rhythms and textures; he wrapped it up by fade-outs and slow-downed keystrokes to produce a surreal departure, leaving me aching for more. Oneohtrix Point Never certainly deserves my vote as artist of 2010; ‘Returnal’ is essentially the highlight of my year so far as it is one of the best records by one of the most talented people in music right now. Daniel if you are reading this, I just want to tell you how amazing you are!