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Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of Music Album Reviews

Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of Music Album Reviews
The tenth album from Daniel Lopatin is his most collaborative and accessible solo project to date, yet still full of unexpected chaos and songs that can suddenly dissolve and disarm.

In children’s movies, the world is always ending. These worlds are smaller than our own, less complex and less fraught, but there is rarely an instance when they’re not in crisis. The kingdom is freezing over, or the human race has been doomed, or God is getting ready to go off to college. When they come out of crisis, the worlds are fundamentally changed—kids’ movies don’t adhere to the trope of the action hero batting away disaster and everything going back to normal. They are one of the few mainstream cultural arenas where vivid eschatologies can play out unburdened by the need to massage the status quo. So it follows that, on his most apocalyptic record, Oneohtrix Point Never would sneak in a song meant to soundtrack a hypothetical Pixar movie.

Age Of, the tenth studio album from the electronic artist Daniel Lopatin, spills over many of the formal and conceptual boundaries set by previous OPN records. After working with Anohni on her debut solo album Hopelessness, Lopatin found himself drawn to the process of collaborating with other artists, a stark contrast to the cerebral solo labor that had driven his work to date. Instead of going it alone again, Lopatin looped in James Blake to co-produce and mix the album. Anohni and noise artist Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient) lent vocals to several tracks, while Eli Keszler supplied live drums and multi-instrumentalist Kelsey Lu played keyboards. Strikingly, Lopatin sings lead on four songs, threading his distorted voice through jagged electronics for the first time since 2010’s Returnal.

The inclusion of more pop-friendly artists and the foregrounding of the human voice might suggest that Age Of ranks among OPN’s more accessible pieces. If anything, it’s one of his most challenging. Sound objects drift in and out of focus like space debris from a forgotten explosion; slick, retrofuturistic synthesizers commingle with harsh noise; the record’s most conventional song, “Babylon,” ends abruptly, like someone unplugged it. The songs on Age Of are chaotic. They do not behave the way you expect them to, and their deviations from the energetic scripts of popular music ripple like tremors through the ground.

Like its predecessor, 2015’s Garden of Delete, whose preamble consisted of a fansite for a nonexistent band and a fake interview with an alien, Age Of comes cocooned in esoteric lore. The CD art and promotional material reiterate a kind of alignment chart based on 16th-century French engravings, with each of four “ages” (bondage, ecco, excess, and harvest) illustrated by grotesque humanoid caricatures. The four images laid out in a grid evoke the right/left authoritarian/libertarian memes that proliferate on Twitter to the point of semantic satiation, only Age Of’s chart has no original referent, no known source image to corrupt—it’s pure meme.

Lopatin has said that “Myriad,” the name of his new live ensemble and part of the track title “myriad.industries,” is an acronym that stands for “My Record = Internet Addiction Disorder.” It’s a joke, probably, but Age Of does engage with the emotional exhaustion of the endless scroll. The music is preoccupied with the question of what the mind is looking for when it compulsively returns to the feed: nothing specific, but nothing redundant, either. The internet addict craves a vague novelty beyond what the channel-surfer or dial-turner seeks. The internet addict wants to be implicated in their leisure because there is no leisure anymore. Nor is there any labor. There is only attention and the objects to which it’s drawn.

The way Lopatin funnels attention through Age Of confounds deeply ingrained listening habits. “The Station,” a simmering pop number apparently written for Usher, bombards a sterile, placid guitar riff with frantic cascades of harpsichord and synthesizer. Even the voice, roboticized by effects, wants to break out of its cage; by the song’s end, it’s splintered off into an uncanny screech. “Babylon,” another vocal track buttressed by the bass tone from the “Twin Peaks” theme, overlays Lopatin’s voice with so many different versions of itself (and some backing screams from Prurient) that he starts to sound less like the orchestrator of his own music than a victim of it. “I love it when I see you in a state of disbelief,” he sings, his words corroded by harmonies falling slightly out of sync. He dissolves himself in a song that doesn’t quite sound like a song, singing with a voice that sounds less and less like a voice.

These formal disintegrations flood the record with anxiety. Even its brighter moments, like the tantalizing instrumental “Toys 2” (the one meant for Pixar, and named for Toys, a nightmarish Robin Williams comedy) tend to fall to ruin before long. The synthesizers detune, the percussion trickles away, the singing voices stutter and fade. Age Of could be an exercise in ruining songs, but like the Knife’s Shaking the Habitual, it is less interested in perpetuating pleasure than it is in examining its mechanics. What makes a song tick, and what kind of desire propels the listener through it? What makes a person want?

It is a profoundly lonely place, this album, and it would be unbearably cynical were it not for the moments of sublimity rustling through its sneers. Anohni’s voice breaks to the forefront on “Same,” a jolting track that lets her do what she does best, which is taunt annihilation and withstand it. Her voice is authoritative like nature is, lithe and flexible enough to dodge bullets, powerful without any need to adhere to architectures of power. When she re-enters the fray on “Still Stuff That Doesn’t Happen,” she brings with her all the stray voices that have percolated throughout the album, the raspy yowls and the low groans. “Speak to me,” they sing against the jazzy strut of a drum kit, twirling together like trash in a breeze. “Release me.” The moment is beautiful in ways Lopatin’s music has not before dared to be beautiful—it disarms.

In the face of extinction, the human mind seeks narrative. It wants to be the action hero diverting the disaster so that real life can continue unimpeded. Age Of floats the idea that the disaster itself might be real life. In its chaos and its relief from chaos, it stages the panic and helplessness encountered in disaster as stories worth telling on their own.

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