A star-studded stylistic grab bag from the synth superstar.
Daniel Lopatin's ninth album as Oneohtrix Point Never takes stock of his career to date, surveying the mix of influences that landed him on his current pedestal. It draws on his childhood and teenage experience with FM radio. At its best, American radio is a bizarre and varied scrum worthy of romanticizing. A big tent that includes lovelorn listeners calling in dedications, double-shot lunch hours with Otto-like DJs jamming "Stairway To Heaven" and "Kashmir" back-to-back, and shows like Coast To Coast AM, the syndicated late-night talk show dealing with the paranormal. Magic Oneohtrix Point Never is Lopatin's attempt to recreate this range over the course of an 18-track album.
"I wanted to make a cohesive, punchy, 50-minute record that was very personal, but pulled from FM palettes that I was personally interested in," is how Lopatin described the concept to Apple Music. The dial-surfing theme allows him to make a concept out of a lack of cohesion, surfing from style to style even within a single track. The effect can be overwhelming. "Auto & Allo" starts off with a snappy beat reminiscent of the Gucci Mane hit "Lemonade" before disintegrating into electronic abstraction. Then, an auto-tuned ballad springs up out of nowhere. On "Bow Echo," the track that kicks off the album's core "Midday Suite," the dramatic shift really works. That one begins with some dramatic New Age-y synth experimentation, reminiscent of classic OPN, before dropping into an '80s-style gated snare synth-pop crusher hammered home with a catchy, nonsensical verse from the rapper NOLANBEROLLIN.
Fellow A-listers The Weeknd and Caroline Polachek feature on "No Nightmares," a futuristic take on a schmaltzy radio ballad. Arca appears on "Shifting," which combines vocal cut-ups with Giallo soundtrack synths, but doesn't really manage to go anywhere. Overstuffed with ideas, some of Magic Oneohtrix Point Never's odd juxtapositions and clever references feel merely "neat." You don't get the sense Lopatin's deeply invested—more that he's throwing concepts at the wall and seeing what sticks.
There are stunning moments on Magic Oneohtrix Point Never. Having fully graduated into the rarified world of scoring and pop production, Lopatin is a proven master of mood and pacing. He also has a deep well of tricks and stylistic signatures. Even when he's trying his hand at drum-machine pop-punk ("I Don't Love Me Anymore") or synth-pop nu metal ("Lost But Never Alone"), he manages to sound only like himself. "Imago" looks back to one of his best records, 2011's Replica. The brief track starts with sampled spoken-word cutups, then introduces doleful synth and piano. Near the end comes the pièce de résistance, a gorgeous, accomplished string and winds arrangement worthy of Ryuichi Sakamoto.
There's a listless quality running throughout the record, which is unsurprising considering Lopatin produced Magic Oneohtrix Point Never between March and July of 2020. "Cross Talk IV / Radio Lonelys," a Negativland-style collage, features a couple of disembodied voices drifting from hope to cynicism: "But the country will not die. Never gonna die. It'll just have a new home, and I'm sure that home will give us space to grow. Probably wrong." The sadboi closer, tellingly titled "Nothing's Special," features the deflated lyrics, "I'm not amazed by the shimmers in the trees / Or, at least, I'm not amazed anymore."
Landmark OPN tunes like "Boring Angel" or even Chuck Person's "Nobody Here" were defined by a sense of wonder and fascination with heraldic synths or the residue of pop music. Now that he's stepped behind the curtain of pop culture, rather than looking in as a curious, savvy outsider, Lopatin seems less in awe of the simulacra that defines the OPN project. On Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, he looks back to his past, attempting to reclaim the magic.
Wed / 11 Nov 2020
01. Cross Talk I
02. Auto & Allo
03. Long Road Home
04. Cross Talk II
05. I Don't Love Me Anymore
06. Bow Ecco
07. The Whether Channel
08. No Nightmares
09. Cross Talk III
10. Tales From The Trash Stratum
11. Answering Machine
13. Cross Talk IV / Radio Lonelys
14. Lost But Never Alone
16. Wave Idea
17. Nothing's Specialv