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Oneohtrix Point Never - Returnal


Editions Mego

At the core of Daniel Lopatin’s grandiose album Rifts was a sense of freefall escapism that thrillingly went against the grain of most ambient releases today. In stark contrast to the restrained tedium of most contemporary ambient, the feeling that he was throwing off the shackles for a spot of self-indulgence was hard to escape. Results were unexpectedly startling with the album showcasing a considerable talent.

The currency of analogue synthesizers has certainly risen in recent years with the restoration of Tangerine Dream to their rightful place in the electronic music pantheon. Like Rifts, the latest album has been composed with a bare minimum of these instruments such as the Juno-60 and MSQ-700 sequencer. The sound palette is limited but it is a testament to his skill in production and arrangement that Lopatin manages to arrange the compositions on Returnal with the care of a true master. The album title deals with the idea propogated in recent times by Schopenhauer of eternal recurrence, centering on an ancient concept that the universe is recurring, not cyclical. Apt then for someone who indulges himself on the sequencer.

He’s not afraid to plunge the listener into surprising areas, starting matters with the crushing distortion of opener “Nil Admirari”. In testament perhaps to the heritage of Mego, mangled noise and disembodied instruments are savagely hurled together in frenetic and random fashion. The results are uncomfortable when one expects the soporific escapism of his previous material, but as an experiment in this specific area it doesn’t work.

Thankfully the gentle eddies of sound that have become his trademark are distilled through the calming mantra of “Describing Bodies” and “Stress Waves”. It’s hard to escape the fact that these compositions wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Rifts or on earlier material, but they retain a charm that is central to the enjoyment of his work. Simple, effective washes of melody are complemented by a carefree susurrus of sequenced effects that decorate the compositions majestically.

Lopatin’s enjoyment of perversely slowed down italo can be found via his Games project and there’s traces of this in the album’s title track. A haunting vocal line entwines itself around several layers of pulsating synths to great effect, the composition becoming more complex with each verse. The addition of a human voice complements these very soulful sounds. Just as each human voice is distinct, so are the circuits of old synthesizers.

Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the ‘trix sound are the collisions of sustained melodic lines that merge into one another. Lopatin manages to harness the essence of drones without resorting to minimalism, sustaining a great sense of enjoyment experienced by the way that repeated and tweaked synths wash over you.  “Pelham Island Road” demonstrates this with only the odd scintilla of melody rising above a number of interlacing tropes. Like fellow Mego artist Fennesz, a distinct ability to eek out melancholy from these melodic compositions is apparent.

Themes of return are present throughout in the track titles and as the album closes there is a feeling of the journey closing. “Ouroboros” is disappointing in sounding like standard ambient with its balearic synth lines  but old melodic memes from earlier in the album do pop up in the closer “Preyouandi”. It’s a slow, drawn out close to proceedings, but does end satisfactorily.

The strength of “Returnal” is in its relatively short length and melodic narrative as predecessor “Rifts” felt gargantuan in size at times. Whilst it’s difficult to hear much of a progression in the sounds or compositions on the album, this is another pleasing and satisfactory addition to Lopatin’s repetoire.

Toby Frith

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