Album Review: Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of
There are a few bands or musicians who could be said to have built up a universe in their work, and at this point there is veritably a Oneohtrix Point Never universe that Daniel Lopatin has been cultivating for some time now. In interviews he has always expounded on influences from both science fiction and science fact, which have, in the last few albums, come to characterise and inhabit his work. His now-trio of albums released on Warp have each come with a considerable back story affixed to them, a lens through which Lopatin would like you to experience them. These have been compelling enough to ignite the imagination, and musically advanced enough to suggest that OPN’s pre-Warp albums were like the primordial ooze of his new universe, just starting to form life.
These additional layers of narrative truly started with R Plus 7, which was the sound of early computers booting up, coming to life, and the musicality of this new-found existence. This was followed by Garden Of Delete, an electro-glitch opera about a crash-landed adolescent alien called Ezra and his tribulations with technology and the human condition on Earth. Now comes Age Of, which Lopatin explained to DAZED as thus: “It’s the end of the universe, and the only thing left is these AI who are gods. They have all the answers, and what they want is to actually be dumb, like us. They loiter like teenagers in a cemetery at night, and they hang out near this dead earth and they run these heuristic tests on it. They’re able to extract from it, to take this average of our experiences based on the sum of our recorded output – and the average is the music you would hear in this opera.”
Now, Age Of’s incredible blending of analogue and digital, completely original use of instrumentation and omnipresent jarring-yet-thrilling aural ejections were largely created before this story was affixed, and are certainly still a jaw-dropping mindfuck without knowing anything about it. However, it’s fun to toy with the idea these songs having been created by lonely AI at the end of the world. It makes sense that they might start off the album opening title track with harpsichord, a somewhat outdated instrument, and then hyper-speed it with modern technology. The harpsichord has become one of Lopatin’s favourite instruments on the last couple of albums, but here he gives it a full work out, until it sounds as if all the strings are snapping in glitched harmony.
What other delights might the AI dredge up from human existence, but the 1992 Robin Williams turd Toys? They make a sequel in ‘Toys 2’ – a clicking, creeping and wan synth composition that sounds like the aural equivalent of a neon gas leak. ‘Warning’ is akin to the midnight blue compositions of Garden of Delete, as it guides you frantically down a pitch black corridor with many sharp and sudden twists, aural trap doors and descending melodies like spotlights searching you out as you attempt escape. It’s in vain as you end up in an evil lair nonetheless on ‘We’ll Take It’, where it sounds as though the AI have attempted to make a stuttering chopped and screwed trap beat with actual power drill sounds cutting through their buzz-saw synths – and it works devastatingly – before the ghost of a piano line comes in and rewires the scene completely. ‘Raycats’ harks back to Lopatin’s Replica era sound, as it somehow stitches together chopped strings, synthesized flute, croaking vocal samples and uncountable other unidentifiable elements into a glistening bubble of a song, that floats gracefully and hopefully despite the sheer weight of ideas it’s bearing.
A key element to human music is vocals, and Age Of features more recognisable human voices than any of OPN’s previous work. Second track ‘Babylon’ sees the AI giving the singer-songwriter mold a try, and through Lopatin’s pretty untouched voice we’re given a series of slightly undercooked platitudes like “even though you don’t believe, just go on,” alongside confusing images like “liquid shaky ground that the soil cannot reach.” Truly robotic lines like “mood spelled backwards says “doom”,” the warped effects, and the background screaming from Prurient augment ‘Babylon’ into an eerie ballad that could easily be believed to have been created by Artificial Intelligence trapped in a deep depression. This is true in the other spots of the album where there are voices; the alien-desert guitar of ‘The Station’ is accompanied by lines like “I wanna feel your organs inside out,” and for ‘Black Snow’ Lopatin took lyrical cues from The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit – which might just be where Artificial Intelligence would look for poetic inspiration.
A couple of the tracks are graced by the powerful voice and presence of ANOHNI. On ‘Same’ she sounds like the soul of the AI yearning to be exterminated, singing out between the gears and mechanistic churning “undo us… fool to dream machine to dust.” The conclusion of the song is cushioned by shining angelic synths, as though the gate to machine heaven has been opened to allow them in. On the gorgeous ‘Still Stuff That Doesn’t Happen’ ANOHNI’s voice sits atop shuffling jazz drums, whispering brass and clipped harpsichord strings – resulting in a lugubrious and brittle mood piece. Again the very idea of the song could be the AI’s amalgamation of human songs about impossible desires - aka ‘Still Stuff That Doesn’t Happen’.
Age Of concludes with ‘Last Known Image Of A Song’, which sounds like the entirety of human recording being smudged and compressed together into an ambient track that is then being downloaded on to a futuristic disk to be preserved for the beings of the next era to study. If the concluding piece, and all of Age Of, were to be preserved as the most succinct and complete representation of humanity’s musical toil, it would surely baffle whoever were to discover it. While it undoubtedly packs in a humongous swath of influences and touchstones from today’s pop culture, the overall piece created is completely unique, unreplicable and ultimately undescribable. That, of course, is the only way that Daniel Lopatin knows how to create music, and Age Of now happily sits alongside his previous planets in Oneohtrix Point Never’s utterly individual universe.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 12th June 2018.