It's always hard to say if, or when, Dan Lopatin is trying to be funny. That would be unusual enough in a high-ish profile drone artist, and unusual enough to explain some of his appeal. But if he is, his irony is thick enough to pass as anything but. It was sort of funny that he began his first mass-market Oneohtrix Point Never album—after scores of tapes and limited vinyl runs—with a blast of noise, but I don't think it was a joke. There was no break of a smile, no follow-through. The people willing to wade through Returnal's smog of melodic keyboards handled it just fine. They're used to it. His face has proven indomitably straight, even through the molasses-thick synth pop album he made with his sinusoidal friend Ford earlier this year. He's not kidding, even when he is.
His second mass-market Oneohtrix Point Never record is called Replica. This isn't a joke either. Insofar as Lopatin aims to say anything in particular, the title is just an indication of what's in the box: a record formed almost entirely of loops. But we'll come back to that, because Replica ends with what I'm pretty sure is a real, honest-to-goodness joke. "Explain" finishes the 40-ish minutes off with a swell of fake choirs and rich, whole, ascending notes. It's lovely, but it would've been too cheesy even for Returnal's gasping vapors. Here, all things considered, it's pretty funny.
Because Replica spends most of its time wheezing and twitching. It's full of glottal stops and impetuous yelps. It spends its bulk setting up inexorable rhythms, then poking them full of holes. Where many of his peers and forebears build their ambience from microscopic variations on the same few sounds, Lopatin doesn't settle for long. "Andro" opens with the closest things he has to a personal palette: scratchy, almost emphysematic swells and distant klaxons breaking in waves. Then the whole thing drops out and turns into a drain-swirl of errant ticks and drums. They may even be two different songs, but the loop-based structure makes it feel inevitable that the former should turn into the latter, just as when "Remember" rears up from a Field-ish gas cloud with cut-up vocals into a sieved R&B far off on the horizon.
Even at his most horizontal, like on the piano-and-sawtooth title track, the loops mean he's always trading in rhythm, and that's where Replica is most exciting. "Sleep Dealer" and "Nassau" snap and skip like warped lock-grooves, though the latter evolves into a lounge keyboard for its sunset close. "Up" puffs up with deep robot drums and serpentine lines, and "Child Soldier" samples an MIA squawk and chases her away with FM static and percussion from an old toy drum machine. On paper, it reads like a mess, and it is, but it's a mess on repeat. It forms a logic all its own, pinging back over and over again until it's done.
And then "Explain" happens, with some fake Enya twirls, which is pretty funny, and a perfectly errant way to end a record that earns its livelihood by errancy. Drone lives and dies by its inviolability and rigidity, but Lopatin throws that away in favor of something madder, weirder and altogether more enticing.
Buy Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica at
Tracklist: Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica 01. Andro
02. Sleep Dealer
03. Power of Persuasion
09. Child Soldier
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