Daniel Lopatin is now ten albums deep in his career as Oneohtrix Point Never – there are movie soundtracks and pedestrian’s soundscapes, there are pieces you could imagine being art gallery installations and there are some tunes that have the heart of a pop song even if they stop to scratch an itch and then forget where they were going only to run off down a different path.
Age Of is the latest – and in some ways its his greatest. In that this is the music of today, a pure expression of the existential blues tied up in living our lives online, in staring down the barrel of the computer screen’s glow, Oneohtrix understands there’s joy and laughter and loveliness in all of this and a strange, silly-sad pathos too. And his version of “teenage symphonies to god” might be the pet-sounds of this era.
That’s all a bit doom and gloom, but it’s hard not to hear anything else in just the opener alone, the title track feeling like a modern electronica-artist take on the Paul Williams score to Phantom of the Paradise.
From there things slow right down with the epic balladry of Babylon – one of the ironies of this as soundtrack to/for the alleged social isolation of these times is that it’s easily Lopatin’s most free-flowing collaborative project. Anohni is there on vocals, as is Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient). Lopatin provides the vocals on four of the tracks and just as I was thinking that Babylon was like a better version of those snore-fest James Blake albums that everyone-except-me seemed to love – turns out Blake was the mixer and co-producer of the album. Chuck in live drums from Eli Keszler and the keyboards from Kelsey Lu and this is far from bedsit electronic; or at least far from one-man-band only.
The Station could – in another lifetime – be the very best Metallica song ever, it’s just been slowed right down, given a heart, a brain, some courage, the full Yellow Brick Road treatment.
I’m also reminded of some of Sufjan Stevens’ more out there moments.
And in fact there are plenty of ‘out there’ moments. Just as a song starts one way it will suddenly veer elsewhere, or end abruptly, a jarring texture will be added right when you least expected it or the hopeful refrain never materialises.
Other times, as on The Station’s in-build coda, the main groove or feel just falls away.
There are truly anthemic moments (Toys 2) and elements of that sound-design focus (Black Snow). And this is, at times, an album that seems to exist as if an audio movie with moments merely there as hidden film cues (myriad.industries) or as a moving, rolling score-within-the-album-proper (Warning).
But it never just disappears inside itself – we’re reminded, and it seems to happen right when we need it, that this is an album of songs, great songs sitting, sometimes hiding, within and because of the moments of mild-weirdness. Still Stuff That Doesn’t Happen, the penultimate track feels like Blake or Anonhi collaborating with Daft Punk and the closing track, Last Known Image of a Song reminds us of Lopatin’s connection to (and worth with) Tim Hecker.
It’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s another very interesting step along what has proven to be a thoughtfully carved path.