Oneohtrix Point Never Delivers Beauty and Spectacle on Again

Daniel Lopatin’s new experimental LP weds strings and electronics over 13 distinct tracks

Music Reviews Oneohtrix Point Never
Oneohtrix Point Never Delivers Beauty and Spectacle on Again

When the average individual encounters music deemed “experimental,” questions tend to pop up. What are those sounds coming from? Where does this song end and that one begin? It’s confusing and, sometimes, overstimulating. To be transfixed by the unfamiliar because of its unfamiliarity is typical. To thousands, the music of Daniel Lopatin—who releases albums under the name Oneohtrix Point Never—has inspired that and more. But scratch below the affronting surface and, suddenly, chunks of the familiar make themselves manifest. It’s those bits of something intelligible that Lopatin coalesces into a specter of déjà vu. On Again, Lopatin’s latest release, recognizable pieces of classical, pop and alternative rock are somehow both more present and more transformed than on any of his recent projects. They are a trail of breadcrumbs through Lopatin’s young adulthood, after his uncanny infancy seen on Magic Oneohtrix Point Never and his metallic adolescence from Garden of Delete. Again is just as warped and bizarre as any Oneohtrix Point Never release, but its optimism is truly next-level.

It’s hard to picture a young Daniel Lopatin, doe-eyed in his Amherst, MA dorm room, being completely taken aback by the idea that music can be, simply, amorphous assemblages of sounds. Lopatin dove into the discographies of ambient experimentalists like Fennesz and William Basinski, bearing witness to compositions removed from the structure of “song” and living outside the specificities of linear time. Naturally, it did not stop there. Before long, Lopatin and his college buddies were deep-diving into left-of-center music of all varieties and toying with making their own. Again is, in part, an homage to that person he once was, one discovering the possibilities afforded in creative experimentation. Generative AI makes an appearance again, not as a crutch, but as a tool whose limitations—and even downright failures—result in peculiar fragments that Lopatin seeks to exploit. For an album decorated with confronting dynamic changes and grating sounds, Again is just as adorned by moments of naked beauty that escape Lopatin’s signature processes. It reveals his veneration of all tools that have augmented his process. Better yet, the album revels in a youthful optimism that once oozed out of him as a young adult that propelled him into the career he has now: one of this century’s foremost figures in experimental music, credited with two film scores and a slew of collaborations with diverse figures across alt pop ranging from Soccer Mommy to The Weeknd.

Again opens with NOMAD ensemble’s strings in cacophony on “Elseware,” as if each player were still noodling in their own world before recording—only to fall into place, working through an energetic number straight out of the classical period. The subsequent track—the title track—brings the focus back towards Lopatin’s electronic production, with synths swelling and harmonizing like a robotic barbershop quartet. The onslaught of keys, strings and static prepare an early climax that refuses to linger, suggesting something big yet to come. “World Outside” offers a sweeping melody bookended by bedlam, followed by sweet singing from Lopatin himself; “Krumville” is meditative and cosmic as Lopatin partners with Xiu Xiu to play in the art-rock sandbox the band has hewn so well. It feels like blown-out slacker rock with sharp edges. “Locrian Midwest” is even more offbeat, leaning on an oft-avoided mode to craft something anxious yet gorgeous.

To be sure, Again still offers bubbly electronic numbers that tinker with negative space as much as any other voice. “Plastic Antique” fits this bill well. But these hyper-futuristic elements get softened when something more plainly beautiful enters, like “Gray Subviolet.” NOMAD’s string players are like perpetual motion machines, cycling through tremolos before gradually, then all at once, sublimating. Perhaps the most romantic is “Memories of Music,” the quintessential title for a project touching on a young mind bursting with enthusiasm for what music can offer. The six-minute mini-symphony begins downtempo before erupting into something magnificent, crackling with possibility. It descends into “On An Axis,” a track inhabiting the scintillating space between Lopatin’s Chuck Person project and My Bloody Valentine.

Again’s closer, lead single “A Barely Lit Path,” feels like the record’s thesis statement. Lopatin keeps it at the end because, like with any analysis, the arguable takeaway doesn’t make itself apparent until the prior source material is fully revealed. In this dynamic, playful, cathartic movement, Lopatin’s synths and artificial voices reach forward like curious arms, eager to parse out the figures around them and find meaning in their presence. The synthesis of electronics and symphonics here is masterful, permanently linking the album towards the reliable, tangible strings and the novel, unfamiliar maze that Lopatin constructs with his usual mastery. As a closer, it has extraordinary force. It’s also beautiful, verging on sublime. “A Barely Lit Path” ends playfully but quietly, requesting a moment of kind reverence for the fanciful young adult Lopatin seeks to nurture. This track, much like the others, is designed to baffle at points. However, the unconcealed emotion gushing out of Again is stupefying. Where Oneohtrix Point Never takes these sounds may challenge the senses, but the feelings Lopatin is drawing forward are all too familiar.

Devon Chodzin is a critic and urban planner with bylines at Slumber Mag, Bandcamp Daily, Merry-Go-Round, Post-Trash and more. He is currently a student in Philadelphia. He lives on Twitter @bigugly.

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