If you were to place a bet back in 2011 on which of Daniel Lopatin’s projects would be his most successful, Oneohtrix Point Never would be the dark horse choice. The safe bet would be the film scores produced under his own name while the terminally online pick would be his groundbreaking work as Chuck Person and the early vaporwave jams that evolved out of his then-experimental YouTube channel. Yet, it was through his Oneohtrix Point Never moniker that he gained his strongest following, including The Weeknd, the Safdie Brothers, and Soccer Mommy. His uncomfortable elegance elevated last year’s Dawn FM and the Safdies’ Uncut Gems even though he was merely a collaborator. It’s a strange trajectory for the man who grew out of the internet, but a cycle such as the one he’s experienced deserves an opportunity for reflection.
Lopatin’s music, as oblique and esoteric as it has been, is empathetic, resembling a human soul trapped behind a screen, communicating through whatever means accessible. That association has only grown alongside the internet’s omnipresence. His 2011 album Replica felt revelatory in that It mirrored how we communicate and connect with other humans; repurposing and finding meaning in old materials. In some ways, his music is a coping mechanism to survive by existing alongside our burdens.
Again is the sort of reflection that Onehtrix Point Never’s arc warrants, and this can only be said bluntly, it’s extremely selfish. The ideals of his past work exist within Again, but self-referentially. Lopatin revisits old scraps and blueprints, incorporating them into his newfound techniques. There are multiple references to his older projects, and for the listener, they’re fun, yet there’s the overarching sense that Lopatin is doing it for himself. Which, technically he is, seeing as how the album’s liner notes describe it as a “speculative autobiography.” The language he uses on the record is indecipherable, but it’s all the better for it. However, it doesn’t feel like a record for anyone but him, which is why it’s fair to call the album selfish.
It’s true that the only thing more opaque about Lopatin’s music is how much his persona penetrates through his music. One can postulate that Again suffers by not pulling back the curtain enough and not taking us through his self-reflection, but that’s inferring there are answers and revelations worth sharing that may not exist. As such, the album cannot replace Replica’s haunted dystopia or Garden of Delete’s pubescent angst in the form of sci-fi horror. Nor is it the greatest hits compilation the Magic Oneohtrix Point Never was. The throughline in Lopatin’s discography is universality, a quality that’s sorely missing on Again.
What Again does, for those not named Lopatin, is play like how you remember Lopatin’s old albums sound without hearing them. It provides the same sensations but with different stimulations. “Aha” moments and moments of recognition are more prevalent than new connections to any of the cuts. “The Body Trail,” for example, contains chopped vocal samples that harken to Replica’s “Sleep Dealer.” It’s merely a single “aha” moment among many. While Lopatin could’ve leaned on this nostalgia, he embellishes it with a newfound, albeit muted, post-rock influence. The layering techniques and mindset he takes from the genre add an analog sentimentality to his digitized palette. They do so in a more effective way than even his vocals. While Magic Oneohtrix Point Never had “I Don’t Love Me Anymore,” a would-be ballad driven to maximalist pop ends, Again has “Memories of Music” and “Nightmare Paint” and their angsty guitars, which show a humanity that Lopatin’s processed vocals never could.
As it stands, Again is the best entry point to Lopatin’s music because it pulls from everything he’s done. You can plot a flowchart from it to your next destination. That being said, on an intrinsic level, the record is for nobody but him. He doesn’t spare any details about his life or any revelations that change one’s perception of him. Even the detours he takes fail to represent a Lopatin that could’ve been, if things were different, if he was in the right place at the right time. Instead, through it, he finds himself in years past, and shakes his hand.
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Colin Dempsey is a Toronto-based writer with publications at Consequence, Invisible Oranges, Spectrum Culture, and more. There will always be more to write about, and he wants to cover it all.