Releases on Warp Records have long been synonymous with a delving into the previously uncharted niches of the electronic music landscape, and demonstrating the challenging and rewarding possibilities on offer via their exploration. Often, the music is merely the centerpiece of what is a greater artistic vision: the collaborations with the Tate, the live embodiments of the records taking on a physical, visual form, as, for example, with Squarepusher’s Ufabulum. The work of Daniel Lopatin, AKA Oneohtrix Point Never, is likewise concerned with a similar space. His latest full-length is a reflection of questions of societal identity in an overwhelmingly technological world, all dragged through the warped, twisted mirror that is his sonic aesthetic.
Lopatin works in musical spaces defined by their contrasts, shown on Garden of Delete in microcosmic form on SDFK. A yawning, bleak open expanse of sound is tinged with melancholy, before being plunged into a mechanistic cascade of thunderous drums. It’s brief, but it encapsulates the fragmentary series of evolutions each track goes through, declining to settle on one form. SDFK segues into Mutant Standard, an aptly-titled exercise in which tangled, sketchy beats and an urgent bassline struggle into formation before collapsing abruptly into poignant melodic echoes, where strands of what had been present before remain, ready to reconstruct anew. Child of Rage – the title of which comes from a documentary of the same name – follows, opening with sampling usage reminiscent of the dreamscapes of No-Man’s Lovesighs. Ambient arpeggios are surrounded by distant mechanical sighs, before gorgeous strings overlap, shifting into focus over deft sprinklings of piano. Again, each element is fleeting, with patches of warmth always at risk of being subsumed by a wall of cold, industrial noise.
The ensuing chaotic musical structures Lopatin creates are therefore fascinating, terrifying, and beautiful in equal measure. The central double-header of Mutant Standard and Child of Rage is perhaps the album’s strongest singular period, but there remains a sense of coherence throughout the album that belies the disorder, with snatches of disembodied human speech and melodic segues working through phases of brutal, decaying screeching, exemplified again by I Bite Through It. It demonstrates the necessity of listening to this album as one complete work, allowing the impressive attention to sound design to become clear, with intense, abrasive textures being placed roughly alongside moments of tranquility through which Oneohtrix’s odd style of musicianship shines through. Another highlight, Lift begins with spiraling synths reminiscent of The Knife, before again devolving into bursts of staccato vocal snippets and chopped-up strings. It’s indicative of an album in which a distinct musical identity is hard to grasp – earlier track Sticky Drama is an example of Lopatin perhaps trying to do too much, with the end result coming off a little trite. In general though, it’s a creative process which remains thrilling, even whilst being deployed in an extremely challenging way.
Overall, Garden of Delete is a release perfectly at home with the artistic aesthetic of Warp. It’s a demonstration of an artist evidently aware and comfortable with his musical direction, even as he relates its maniacal and unhinged nature. Lopatin is an artist working at the peak of his powers – it’s just that I’m not entirely sure what those powers are. I suspect he’d prefer it that way.
Words: Harry Reddick