Album Review: Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal

[Editions Mego; 2010]

Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine has said that he plays so loud in order to make sound physical. Although not musically similar, the “doom” and “down-tempo” genres are parallel with Shields’ sentiment. Down-tempo/doom music is primarily characterized by loud guitars, a low frequency bass, and rumors of people crapping their pants at Sunn O))) shows (read up on the “brown note”). Veering away from the six strings and standard loud amp setups, Brooklyn-based Daniel Lopatin has brought a full electronic setup and a modern psychedelic aspect to the mix. Returnal is his latest album in a series of releases since 2007.

Daniel’s preceding full-length, Rifts, had less of an abrasive, convoluted sound than Returnal. Hell, there were even some pop melodies on the last one. Oneohtrix has still stayed true to a lot of what he’s done with the past, even with the subtle fuzzy melodies. However, Returnal is weighted heavily on the ambient material he’s released.

The first track on the album, “Nil Admirari,” is a cluster of insanity, digital breakdown, and apocalyptic nonsense. The remainder of the album is characterized by delayed synths, distorted and heavily effected vocals (such as on the title track), and an atmospheric presence. Sounds fade in and out throughout the album and timing is not of the essence.

Although in a haze of sorts, every track is still distinctive, but not entirely up front. “Where Does Time Go” represents this adequately in that it is not characterized by its main essence, rather the subtleties and sprinklings of sound underneath. The last track, “Preyouandi,” is the most dynamic track on the album. With tribal, outdoor tones and manipulated vocals, it is an appropriate closer to an album where tracklisting is vital. The album is wholly dependent on an overbearing opener track preparing you for what’s to come and a lively closer track to recap what you’ve just listened to.

Returnal is a cinematic, flowing story. It will scare you, soothe you, and will cause your mind to create its own visual landscape. It will force you to listen to it as a soundtrack. It’s guaranteed to wear you out through the physicality of its sound but calm you with its gentle textures. The noise of this isn’t for everyone, but if you take the time to listen to the album in full, you’ll find that the triumph of Returnal isn’t in the parts, but the whole.