Monday, November 21, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica

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An electronic song cycle based around lo-fi audio procured from television advertisement compilations.” This was the only information released regarding how this album would sound back when it was announced, but it was enough for me to know that I was going to be in for a change from the usual Oneohtrix Point Never sound. Up until this point, OPN's sole member Daniel Lopatin has been using the project as an avenue to primarily explore ambient soundscapes driven by analog synthesizers. His 2010 album Returnal did make some hints at progression; the opening track "Nil Admirari" was a crushing exercise in noise rather than ambience, and the title track even featured vocals, albeit heavily effected. But Replica without question currently stands as the outlier in Oneohtrix Point Never's discography. The synthesizer that drove previous composition is no longer the driving force; in its stead, a heavy array of samples that, as mentioned earlier, were apparently drawn from compilation DVDs of old 80's commercials. That signature synth sound hasn't disappeared, but it takes much more of a backseat role to these samples. Lopatin really takes the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny of these advertisements, treating every little inadvertent sound as fair game. The result, though it does carry an aesthetic similar to past OPN work, is just as much of a venture into plunderphonics as it is ambient music.

It's not like Lopatin hasn't covered different styles before, though. As one half of duo Ford and Lopatin he has also embraced the world of 80's reminiscent synth pop, as well as a slightly hazier form in the project's previous incarnation, Games. Lopatin has also dabbled in something he calls "echo jams" under the name Chuck Person, in which he loops short sections from old pop songs, slows them down, and slathers them with echo. In a way, Replica is a culmination of everything he's done in the past with both Oneohtrix Point Never and Chuck Person. Of course, the sampling on this album is much more intricate than anything that was released under the Chuck Person moniker, so this approach to older ideas feels more like an advancement than a regression.

Looking only at the creative process behind the music, the album is already fascinating. But more importantly, Replica still holds up as a pleasurable listening experience beyond its conceptual wonder. Atmosphere has always been one of this project's strongest points, and that's no less apparent on this album. Oneohtrix Point Never's staple analog synthesizers have never had any problem achieving the "filtered through a warped VHS tape" sound, but the samples take it into corners of this world that the synths could never have done on their own. The vocal snippets provide wordless hooks on tracks like "Nassau" and "Sleep Dealer", and even a sense of quirkiness on the track "Child Soldier". These songs also grasp a quality that music of this nature tends to often lack: a sense of direction. The track "Up" is a perfect example; the track opens with a vocal loop that exclaims "up!" over a rhythm set in a 7/4 time signature, then introduces a more melodic sample singing what sounds like "change me" in a slightly more subtle, yet quite affecting manner. Gradually, synthesizers overtake the song into a wall of ambience built on layers of synth, piano, and that still powerful vocal sample. This song is actually my favorite track on here for all the reasons I love this album: it's structured beautifully, the sounds are stunning, and ideas are pulled together in a way that is both distinctive and innovative.

Oneohtrix Point Never - Up by Mexican Summer

With Replica, Daniel Lopatin has come out with what is easily his most fully realized release yet. Oneohtrix Point Never is no longer a project that can be grouped in with the wave of analog synthesizer worshiping ambient artists set off by Boards of Canada, or penned solely as another artist reviving the sound of progressive electronic music that emerged in the 1970's. Lopatin has now successfully carved out a niche for himself that steps beyond the confines of any one particular sound. He bypasses the overly derivative, backward-thinking notion that a lot of nostalgia-inducing music tends to take and ends up with an album that is memorable and undeniably unique. And to me, it's one of his most enjoyable works yet.

Overall Score: Decent to Strong 8 (and this totally has the potential to grow on me)

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