Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never (Warp, 2020)

Something I’ve talked about at great length in the past is nostalgia, it’s such a powerful force and point of obsession running across and through music. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, perhaps it’s simply a rose-tinted goggles perspective that is a universal human constant; either way these retrospective views of the world have a frequently masturbational energy about them. Wasn’t everything soooo good in the Nineties?! Weren’t thing so much simpler in the Eighties?!

Back in 2010, Dan Lopatin (OPN) released a pretty pivotal record under the alias Chuck Person, called Eccojams, Vol. 1. It was essentially a satirising swipe at 80s/90s fetishisation, a caricature of the growing collective feeling (certainly online) in millennials maturing into an adult world and wistfully reminiscing on the poorly conceived sense of a time now passed. It spawned an entire genre, Vaporwave, which quickly took off a couple of years later but ironically further entrenched the nostalgia-wanking as thousands of artists jumped to exploit the past musically.

Central to understanding and appreciating OPN’s work, in my view, is not feeling a sense of pleasure in reaching to the past. The soundscapes he summons, even if they are filled with baroque instrumentation ala Age of, or the MIDI heavy constructions of previous efforts such as R Plus Seven, are modern and rooted in the now. We are here, that was then, and there’s not intrinsically much pleasure to be derived in this memory plumbing.

MOPN is very much a lonely record at its heart, searching for something over the airwaves in its frequency hopping “Cross Talk” interludes, snippets of sub-60 second radio station format-change conversations. These are painful acknowledgements of change and forward motion, elegies of punctuation. The scanning, blistered, vibrant beginnings of “Tales From The Trash Stratum” segue “Cross Talk III”, only to be slowly tempered by sweet synth drones and twinkling, beauteous harpsichord arpeggiations. A few precious, gem-like instances caught precariously in the heart of the album, fleeting moments of wistful remembrance.

More gentle moments of quasi-ambience pepper the record with suggestive reprieves, contemplative meditations in a decidedly digital world resting firmly in the now. Penultimate “Wave Idea” sounds like Virginia Astley for 2020, gentle lapping radiance borne from artificiality, synth drones arcing across bird chirps and chirrups and cuckoos whose organic origin is in question. Like memories they are mimics, recreations and reconstructions of something true; that doesn’t make them less emotionally valid per se, but we must tread lightly around their false promise.

“Bow Ecco” moves like a subverted Bibio track, jingling strings cycling with a pastoral charm, undercut by passing dark clouds of thrumming synth bendings that twist its fabric menacingly. As it phases into centerpiece “The Whether Channel” it strips down, readying itself. MIDI bloopings reign in its humble beginnings as it slowly, effortlessly transmutes into a piece of experimental hip-hop towards its end. And as bizarre as it sounds, it works. Nolan Berollin’s lyrics are bitcrushed and smudged, becoming increasingly unintelligible, feeding into strange abstraction as though we’re summoning the sense of a track from our youth. Not quite able to make out all of its features, we end up substituting the lyrics out with odd, but weirdly workable, replacements:

Bands on me, I’m a raccoon

Niggas get froze they all statues

She gon’ get nutty for the cashew

As in the above and following on from Age of there’s a smattering of vocal pieces throughout, caught hovering between realms. “Auto & Allo” evokes R Plus Seven or Returnal reminiscence at its bookends, with its interior floatiness swirling in delicious and mysterious Hypnagogic Pop, unfathomable and undefined. “I Don’t Love Me Anymore” moves with Pop sensibilities in crisp drums and blissed out guitars, vocals lost to a shoegazing heroin haze and all in counterpoint, in tension.

Like everything here it exists in subversion and opposites, its generally upbeat demeanour betrayed by its inherent contextual melancholia in the sung sections. Languid “No Nightmares” croons softly, repetitiously, its backing textures filled with cliche reverb and drenched in sarcasm as it casually mocks 80s synth sequencing and timeless teen whining/pining. Its more serious apposite is the gorgeous “Lost But Never Alone” which, although in a somewhat similar vein, actually sinks further into the mire with an aged Dream Pop visage.

It takes two to make this work

You wanna give me that look?

I won’t stop you at all,

I like the way you tease

Dan’s voice touches the senses so lightly yet filled with so much ineffable, intractable feeling through the fog, the guitars doing most of the sonic work here in what you could argue as being the most “conventional” track of the lot. As a later appearance there’s definitely a sense of condensation by this point, sentiments distilling down in defiance of the usual textural miasma in the search for the normal.

There’s something in the structure and content of this record that is just so intimately retrospective. The way Dan always manages to craft something that sounds, for want of a better word, dated and yet brimming with modernity is stunning and unnerving in equal measure. It doesn’t jerk you off by taking you to the past like so many people desperately crave, rather it brings the past to us, carrying all that weight and sentimental baggage along for the ride. Because whilst there are fond moments from times gone by littering our memory this constant over-the-shoulder or rear-view-mirror gazing is an unhealthy obsession that we shouldn’t pander to.

The future ahead of us presents itself with limitless possibility, infinite variance; rather than scrubbing through the radio waves to find those reminiscences we crave, our focus should be on finding the new and different instead. Luckily for us OPN brings that unconventionality and off-kilter deliciousness straight to our doorstep but without ever making the experimentation feeling alienating. This will sound and feel perfectly, uncomfortably, familiar.