Oneohtrix Point Never has returned with a massive new album you can call G.O.D. It peels up the corner tiles of a thousand realities over 45 minutes, blooming micro-worlds of sound and immediately dissolving in head-on collisions.
For the first time in years, OPN – real name Daniel Lopatin – hasn’t completely restructured his sound, yet I’m feeling the same sense of dizzying vertigo that he’s made a career out of conjuring. In a real sense, the strongest component of his appeal has always been that daring sense of surprise, the act of an artist venturing over the edge of the known music world and bringing back sounds that I’ve never even anticipated, much less heard. More than a style, it’s an idea, a philosophy. In the wrong hands, it can become a cheap trick. This is something far more substantial.
In a big way I feel that Garden Of Delete is both Lopatin’s most extreme and somehow his warmest, most accessible album at once. But then I remember that I’ve been a fan since 2009’s Zones Without People and my perspective is probably a little bent. Yet, there’s something magical about the way he juxtaposes dizzying timbral clashes against his most endearing melodies to date. I’m once again in love with the unknown.
Structurally, the album sounds at first like Lopatin merely expanded the midi-sourced processes of R Plus Seven, yet it’s colored like the oceanic synths and cascading minimalism of his Rifts and Eccojams works, respectively. Rapid-fire micro structures tear songs apart like Replica, leaving apocalyptic noise in their wake. The last time we heard digital noise this fierce was the intro to his debut to the wider world, Returnal. In a way, he’s peeled off the most intriguing layers of each of his prior works and built something curiously alien.
Ezra, the first proper track, leaps from the midi-fired dreams of the previous album, reaching speed behind sheets of Philip Glass-like shrill arpeggios. It appears to crest before the two minute mark, suddenly projecting the nanomachine-clogged cyberpunk future of 2000’s Deus Ex in silhouette. Maybe it’s a sample?
You’ll hear it. Also, this is probably my favorite game of all time. If you haven’t played it, you’re seriously missing out.
Sticky Drama, the first “single-friendly” tune of the set, realizes its structure in the angst and black makeup of the nu-metal era. The song manages to sidestep cliche and extract the wireframe model of what made the best of those songs work, with giant dynamic shifts, telegraphed bass drops, and distortion-croaked vocals rendered exotic and purposeful.
At the center of the album, 8 minute Mutant Standard bursts out clad in minimal techno, snowballing into a close cousin of last year’s kaleidoscopic (and near-perfect) Syro, bursting at the seams with a ragged midi arpeggio before fading into new age bliss. It wasn’t until the song ended that I realized it’s the most straightforward “dancey” song Lopatin has ever recorded.
The song reaches a skidding, frantic momentum that reminds me of nothing so much as the most mind-shredding moment from Aphex Twin’s noisy classical/techno masterpiece, Drukqs. I’m thinking Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michael’s Mount. The ending quivers and bows out, shuffling offstep like a particularly warm Autechre song.
Soon we reach Animals, the emotional nadir of the album. I’m sent floating through the pixelated clouds of a Japanese RPG, watching a most heart-wrenching scene unfold beneath my feet. I’m out of reach, unable to help, and infinitely crushed. It’s perfect, conveying more chest-heaving gravity than anything the experimental composer has yet recorded. The weirdest part is that this feeling of direct emotion, of lyricism, feels perhaps the most revelatory part of the experience. I’m not just shedding tears of awe at arresting music; I’m hit with the kind of knee-jerk feelings that usually accompany songs with a literal story to tell.
This music is as soul-stirring as anything I’ve listened to in the past year.
The cover art seems to reflect my 16bit mood reading: a dragon perched atop a smoldering pile of ruins, a crescent moon cradled in its toes and a broken man below. Or maybe you see something completely different; I haven’t actually asked anyone else.
Some of the noisiest moments feel like a simulated storm being ripped to shreds from within, the neon pop of frantic game scores bursting outward. It’s hard to describe the transcendent feeling, realizing the corniest fragments of my childhood have been dissolved and transformed into something startlingly new. It’s an intellectual sucker punch to a listener of a certain age, and emotionally naked as anything this abstract could possibly be.
The calmer moments are awash in the nostalgia for unreal places like Balamb Garden from Final Fantasy VIII. It’s a feeling I know too well, growing up with NES and Playstation soundtracks making more of an impression than the radio could ever have hoped to. The more disorienting side of the album embraces like a fever dream, exhilarating, a little too fast and dense to truly grasp. This too grips me with a firm sense of nostalgia; I actually played that Final Fantasy in one long streak while home from school, sick for 10 days with mono. It’s a peculiarly satisfying feeling to remember a serious illness so fondly. The best moments of this album reach that same strangely delicious head space and hammer away.
With a fresh layer of earnest emotion and a Berlin techno pulse beneath the surface, Garden Of Delete manages to tug at unknown parts of my heart. It delivers a quiet yearning and sense of loss like the phantom pain of an alternate life, something missed deeply without ever having known.
Throughout the second half of the album, there’s a lot of minor key piano, echoed and delayed, hazy and mourning, mixing in and out of tactile and purely electronic tones. The album reaches its peak with Freaky Eyes, where it’s become clear that the whiplash tonal shifts and textural confusion have been building toward serious melodic an emotional payoff. This is, in its own way, a radical move for Lopatin.
In a flourish worthy of a magician’s rabbit from a hat, a wandering drone transforms into a towering organ arpeggio, tumbling and building toward an apocalyptic crescendo. Right at the most orgasmic moment, someone flips the dial. Sucked through static, we’re witnessing the shuttering death of AM gold tune in undeniably catchy fashion. The melody is reborn in plastic synths before escaping unseen into the dream of a foggy wood at night.
The incredible precision with which Lopatin takes us through this narrative rollercoaster is the key to grasping the entire album. The way that a million intersecting and hyper-fast ideas fit together like the most painstaking, slowly woven tapestry when the final song ends and the entire piece is revealed.
I’m not yet sure if this is my favorite Oneohtrix Point Never album, but I had to review it and express this idea: I think Garden Of Delete is the most perfect distillation of that sense of wild unpredictability and next-level shock that has colored all of his work so far. It’s as much a startling next step as a perfect introduction for new fans.
You can order the album from Warp at Bleep or just listen on Spotify when it comes out November 13, 2015. In fact, I’ll probably embed the stream right here on that date, so keep an eye out.