The cathedral organs that both open and close Oneohtrix Point Never’s latest LP firmly establish a sentiment that I felt back when I first heard 2011’s Replica, and it’s that Daniel Lopatin’s project could curate the soundtrack to the flashing, vivid memories that seem to linger forever in the final moments before you die. I wouldn’t know that personally (I’m not dead, nor have I had any brushes with death), but if Lopatin can create a track that is quite literally a test of every imaginable numbered effect on a keyboard and still make it reflective and cathartic (“Inside World”), then I’m convinced he’s the guy that can handle it.
Admittedly, “moments before death” is not the first place I want to be transported to when I listen to music, but I’m not about to make the case that it should be otherwise. Oneohtrix Point Never has tested the boundaries of drone, experimental, and sample-based electronic music over the last few years, coming up with complex concoctions and puzzling soundscapes that alienate just as much as they welcome. They can be so many things at once — haunting, funny, blissful, all three, or something else entirely — that those wanting to find an answer with one spin probably won’t get one.
But for all the mysteriousness Oneohtrix Point Never might invoke using labyrinthian song structures and odd patterns, the listener is never lost in the mix. Part of the project’s appeal is Lopatin’s penchant for leading you through the dark hallway rather than leaving you there to pick the right door. The success of both 2010’s Returnal or the aforementioned Replica lies in the listener’s exposure to Oneohtrix Point Never’s cavernous electronics whilst the album guides them to the exact emotions being sought amongst the effort’s many intricacies.
Not much has really changed in this regard following Oneohtrix Point Never’s move to Warp Records for this year’s R Plus Seven. There is still plenty sonically to dig through, maybe moreso than on his previous efforts, and you’re likely to discover a completely new emotion by the time you’re finished with the album.
The difference between records lies mostly within Lopatin’s acquisition of a richer palette of sounds and textures this time around, hitting subtler keys harder and procuring jauntier rhythms more frequently. R Plus Seven expectedly still incorporates retro-infused elements, particularly those found in the late-80s, but it manages to expand Oneohtrix Point Never’s universe greatly by almost abandoning his sample and drone-centric eccentricities for more colorful ventures.
The best efforts on R Plus Seven come from the longer tracks, such as “Zebra,” the record’s crux and most fascinating piece, which clocks in at close to seven minutes. It’s a track split into multiple movements, with the first half being gleefully blippy and only remotely hinting at having a hook, but then slowly diving into a musical chasm of a second half rife with synth swirls, glassy instrumentals, and ping-pongy atmospherics.
“Still Life” and “Chrome Country” follow in a similar suit, plunging the listener into all-encompassing yet completely different compositions of electronic euphoria. They’re both quite enormous in scope for sounding so breathy and effortless, utilizing broader tools such as choir vocals and MIDI instrumentation to establish space and the amount of resources that exist within it. There’s just a lot more room with which Oneohtrix Point Never is working, a situation in which he has dabbled on previous records but has never fully realized until now.
And yet, while Lopatin creates more detail with this richer palette, the album is dotted with shorter tracks and movement shifts that have just enough definition to fill the time that’s allotted to them. They last just until he decides to move on to the next musical idea, as if Oneohtrix Point Never is guiding you through that dark hallway, but he’s getting you through it in the quickest possible manner. At this point, the album feels more like a set of fleshed-out song experiments than the hypnotizing and longer-lasting journeys his previous LPs delivered. There’s a lot to relish in these moments, but when you pass by them, you kind of want to leave your guide to go back and see if you were missing anything.
Taken from beginning to end, the more vibrant R Plus Seven is ironically Oneohtrix Point Never’s least-memorable excursion, but it doesn’t change the fact that Oneohtrix Point Never can still take listeners to a special place without their ever feeling lost. R Plus Seven is a good collection of ideas that are worth exploring at the very least, and even if the ideas are somewhat short-lived, I still get a distinct emotion from each. Oneohtrix Point Never approaches his songs with cooler spaces and more colorful techniques, and I can’t wait to see where he takes them next.
R Plus Seven is available via Warp Records today, September 30th.
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