Album Review: Oneohtrix Point Never – Again

[Warp; 2023]

With Oneohtrix Point Never’s debut, 2007’s Betrayed in the Octagon, Daniel Lopatin embraced the minimalistic work of Eno, Basinski, Stars in the Lid, and Tim Hecker, among others. Soon stepping away from this lineage, Lopatin pivoted toward more eclectic templates, driven to address a broader range and mix of sounds. By the time he released 2010’s Returnal, he had ventured into a glitchy brand of psychedelia, consistently contrasting emptiness and excess, but with a pronounced interest in noisescapes, discordancy, and sardonic critiques of contemporary culture.

With 2018’s Age Of, Lopatin integrated elements of pop songcraft, several tracks featuring conventionally delivered vocals. This template was further plumbed in 2020’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never. While Lopatin’s incursions into songsmithery were refreshing, sonic exploration remained and remains his forte. Age Of stood out for its classical structures and sublime movements. Magic was memorable for its fragmentations, juxtapositions, and employment of radio/DJ frames, a popular approach previously utilized by Lopatin on 2011’s Replica.

With his latest album, Again, Lopatin draws from his various playbooks, including the synth-emphases of 2013’s R Plus Seven and the aforementioned classical constructs of Age Of. The result is some of his more ambitious and big-scale work to date. While he facilitates panoramic vistas, he also and alternately rouses feelings of claustrophobia. A listener will experience moments of transcendence; i.e., catharsis, though Lopatin mostly reports from within the proverbial matrix. Self-aware, Lopatin resists trendy romanticism, accepting that cultural, egoic, and spiritual limitations may be an ineluctable reality. We need not lament this fact, though, he might add, as the cages within which we exist are plenty vast, perhaps as vast as the universe itself.

The title song is a bright blend of altered voices, sustained synths, and jerky accents. One seeks cohesion, perhaps finding it, perhaps not. In either case, one can grant Lopatin the grace to elaborate on the 20th Century’s polemic re: unity and the lack thereof, even if the obsession seems slightly antiquated. Additionally, one has little need for confessionalism, Lopatin seamlessly wielding a healthy detachment. If he comments on suffering, he does so in a way that dedramatizes it. He’s a scientist more than an empath, a philosopher more than a poet (not that, in both cases, the two can’t coexist). On display, as well, is Lopatin’s gift for abrupt transitions, the track moving from rumbling yet understated cello sounds to a sprawl of pastoral accents run through agitative effects. It’s probably safe to say that Lopatin is less intrigued with hyperrealism than he is an impressionistic take on chaos theory.

With “World Outside”, Lopatin fuses percussive cacophonies and cerebral echoes, conjuring such current maximalists as Lauren Bousfield and Rắn Cạp Đuôi. Lopatin’s vocal is melodic yet ultimately ambient, a transient part of a sonic context, voice and melody soon morphing into an audial Rorschach. “Plastic Antique” is built around staccato notes, clangs, bangs, and arhythmic tocsins, invoking a group drumming gone awry.

“The Body Trail” incorporates a ruptured vocal surrounded by synthy throbs and crinkles, quick segues, syntheses, and dissolutions. A recurrent violin part grounds the piece, offering a refrain of sorts. It’s as if we’re in a gargantuan mall, bombarded by ads, endless options around food, drink, clothing, jewelry, body enhancements. “Nightmare Paint”, too, makes use of pervasive static and classically inclined phrases that are arbitrarily truncated. If the former references an overcrowded public place, the latter alludes to nocturnal solitude and the preoccupations that arise at 3AM. While both tracks examine the theme of entropy, “The Body Trail” evokes global materialism while “Nightmare Paint” points to the proliferation of thoughts, especially negative self-talk.

“Ubiquity Road” is one of the more spacious pieces on the album, Lopatin’s synth-work tilting cloud-ward re earlier forays. Closer “A Barely Lit Path” launches with Lopatin’s well-effected vocal, immediately (and a bit disconcertingly) recalling Bon Iver. As the piece progresses, it lists toward a more clattery gestalt, eventually erupting into a choppy scape before shedding one sound after another, concluding minimally.

While Again draws conceptually from previous work, Lopatin exceeds his own precedents; in terms of application and performance, more fully realizing his compositional inquiries. Clearly, his stints as producer for other artists’ projects; e.g., Anohni’s Hopelessness (2016), FKA Twigs’ Magdalene (2019), and The Weeknd’s Dawn FM (2022), have enriched his repertoire. His ability to navigate a studio has never been more evident. With Again, Lopatin captures the numbing clutter and volatile emptiness of post-digital, post-humanistic life: the silence that chokes, the clamor that drowns. And while these aren’t original themes (numerous artists have explored these polarities), Lopatin’s response seems notably relevant and largely his own.