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Thursday
Nov102011

Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica

Mexican Summer

It’s a familiar start, and an enchanting one. But when opening track “Andro” explodes into the screams of white noise and fractured tribal percussion with which it ends, you know this is a very different collection of pieces to 2010’s Returnal. More melodic, less meditative, a far more dishevelled outing than we’ve previously seen, it is thus a more insistent and purposive album, one that chisels away at your ears and inscribes itself on your consciousness.

Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin has previously confessed his covetousness of an analogue synthtopia, a motive that remains, but fetishism is no longer the driving impetus. Here synthesis is the element that lends the music’s true focus – a series of looped and treated samples – coherence. This is not an unprecedented manoeuvre; stylistically, there is much in common with material produced under Lopatin’s earlier KGB Man moniker, with grainy samples climbing aboard a wash of DX7 pads. Replica is a more polished union than that, naturally, but without being fussy or overwrought.

The second and third tracks work to drive home this new rationale. The spastic loops of “Sleep Dealer” form a fricative base onto which a detuned flute traces a languid melodic refrain. Meanwhile, “Power of Persuasion” explores the dreamlike cultural melancholy of cyclical sampledelia via blocks of repetition that conjure the hazy frozen mirages of John Carpenter or Vangelis. The arpeggiated piano of this track foreshadows the title track, whose frank simplicity makes it perhaps the most jarring episode of the album: a plangent four-chord piano theme rocks back and forth, crumples into overdriven bass tones, and returns unabated, adorned by buzzing sawtooths and swoops of noise. A combination of drones and meandering melodic lines is likewise present across the album, often recalling the psych-electric explorations of Terry Riley’s synth-ragas. This blend of the transcendental and the kitsch continues on the album closer “Explain”, where breathy pads blend with synthetic birdcalls, forming the backdrop for a psychedelic soundscape.

Intersections abound between the repurposed new age that is now synonymous with OPN, pop-cult synthetic film scores, and experimental twentieth century music. This makes itself particularly apparent in the schizotic sampladelia of “Nassau” and “Child Soldier”, the latter’s cartoonish swipes and laminated screeches suggesting John Oswald, or a more rhythmically- orthodox incidence of John Cage’s compositions for radios and turntables. Indeed, the buried sirens and vocal snatches that litter a number of tracks actively encourage a more Cageian engagement with Replica than might normally be advised; low-level headphone listening reveals the album to be remarkably accommodating to, even enhanced by, the sonic detritus of the external world.

Herein lies the subtlety of the project. Whereas previous OPN albums have been rather hermetic and introverted, Replica’s many layers are not restricted to the substance of the music itself. With its allusions to alternate possibilities through stilted samplework, the inducement of contemplative reveries, and implicit openings for chance interactions, the compositional balance is so fine that it suggests rather than dictates. This is candidly artificial music that acknowledges its lack and seeks a profound engagement with the phenomenological strata of a world existing outside itself.

Toby Bennett

@tgpb85

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