One of the questions that Oneohtrix Point Never seeks to answer on ‘Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’ is: what is it that makes radio so appealing? Why, for example, in a hyper-individualised era of streaming what you want, when you want, do we come back to it? Is there something comforting about the jingles, ads or breathy presenter’s announcements? What does it reveal about the presenter and the listeners? Can it bring people together?
A fascination with radio has informed much of Daniel Lopatin’s output and inspired his moniker, but this question posed itself more urgently this year as, like many of us, he found himself in a reflective mood. Radio, it seems, is the ideal medium to showcase and look back on Lopatin’s musical whims and ontological concerns. His previous, detail-oriented work, which spans from vaporwave, to warped R&B and tense film OSTs (the Safdie brothers’ ‘Uncut Gems’), is concerned with nostalgia and the search for ‘some feeling’. The digital/analogue clash he creates can be unsettling, sad, tender or brutally sterile. ‘Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’ continues in the same vein, offering a synthesis of the more accessible aspects of his work and a few surprises along the way.
‘Auto & Allo’, the opener, offers a snippet of a great pop song and then descends into a wash of glitches and warm synths over which Lopatin, in an auto-tune that is both comforting and repellent, coos ‘I know a place to go’. Single ‘Long Road Home’, which features Caroline Polachek, is a great pop song which teems with sparkly synth patches. ‘Shifting’, with Arca, ramps up the tension. Transitions are punctuated by archive recordings and jolly jingles which heighten the album’s ominous, but playful, nostalgia: ‘the music we grew up with doesn’t speak for us’. It has, however, left its mark and lives within us.
The main musical blueprint is his own. ‘Bow Ecco’ sounds like it could come from 2011’s ‘Replica’. But some of the baroque stylings recall, strangely, Virginia Astley, on ‘Wave Idea’, for example. ‘Nothing’s Special’’s chords bring to mind Satie, specifically, Patricia Escudero’s 1987 release ‘Satie Sonneries’. Escudero’s eldritch synth compositions cast the composer in a new light, wrapping his simplicity in a processed haze. Lopatin is doing something similar with a much broader range of source material. There is a lot going on.
‘Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’ will bring in some new fans, especially ‘No Nightmares’, his half- successful collaboration with The Weeknd, with whom he performed on SNL earlier this year. Nevertheless, it bares traces of the polarising elements of his sound – the blips, gravelly autotune, snatches of noise and an irreverent desire to sabotage what risks sounding too obvious, lucid or clean.
It is a personal, self-referential record, then, but one of the tenets of radio is the shared listening experience it provides, the sense of togetherness. It isn’t too much of a reach to say that listening to this album helps to process and make sense of these times and, especially, of the state of play of pop-adjacent electronic music. Since it’s archived already, you won’t have to wait for a repeat broadcast.
Words: Wilf Skinner
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