Hauntology has taken quite the trip. A popular way to describe early vaporwave, hauntology has been retroactively used to describe the genre as not just simple nostalgia but as a critique of capitalism, and similarly, hauntology has taken on new forms to suit more complex ideas as the decade has progressed. Leyland James Kirby’s project The Caretaker is, without a doubt, hauntology, but his manipulations of 1930s jazz and ballroom songs are a simulation of the experience of dementia. And the hauntological has transformed again on Daniel Lopatin’s new record, the almost eponymous Magic Oneohtrix Point Never. Magic sees Lopatin revisiting many of the sounds he’s worked in, all refracted through the kaleidoscope of dense psychedelia. What may at first seem to be self indulgent is actually restless and uneasy, a record about our relationship to music: someone else’s or our own.
In tiny bursts all over Magic, Lopatin indulges in almost every style he’s tried out so far. There are the breathy loops of Replica at the beginning of “Imago,” and the chamber instrumentation from Age Of in “Tales From The Trash Stratum.” The atmosphere is thick and buzzing, like the drone pieces off Rifts, but this time, everything is painted in bright hues. This is the warmest record that he’s ever produced, as well as the most melodic.
Don’t mistake that for a rose colored trip through his record collection. These referential moments are steeped in melancholy, appearing in brief flashes before falling away. Lopatin smashes these styles together, creating new shapes out of familiar materials. It all suggests that none of this music is as we remember it.
That theme is expressed by the “Cross Talk” interludes, sound collages taken from the mouths of radio DJs, which structure the record into four suites. Some of us will remember the OPN moniker is taken from station Magic 106.7, making the title of this record doubly allusory. Each presents the subject of its following suite; creating space for the music, which is scrupulous and impossible to read (just like everything Lopatin produces). Take “II,” a series of interlocking quotes: “Somehow the music we all grew up listening to doesn’t relate to our adult reality and our new dreams; the music we grew up with doesn’t speak for us or what we’re now going through; surprisingly enough the question that comes to mind is ‘have you changed?” And the answer to that is ‘yes.”
What follows are the most tranquil songs on the album: breakbeat synthpop on “I Don’t Love Me Anymore,” the glassy electronics of “Bow Ecco,” a new-age-turned-trap centerpiece “The Whether Channel,” and then “No Nightmares,” open-hearted as hell, The Weeknd singing the title phrase over and over again, promising us and trying to convince himself. It’s the biggest pop song Lopatin has written, and it stands out in isolation, delivered on an album haunted by the ghosts of records past.
His conclusion at the end of the record is a feint. The last song is titled “Nothing’s Special,” but the lyric that this comes from says the opposite: “I’m still impressed at how special nothing gets if you stare long enough.” Both meanings are self-effacing, and especially ironic considering this is the most attention Lopatin has ever gotten for an album, with long profiles appearing in the pages of magazines like GQ. His discomfort with his cult following and demands of constant stylistic growth is palpable, and yet, even in the middle of all of this unease, Magic is a real high point, a rich album that manages to sound big even when it’s emotionally very small. “Lost But Never Alone” exemplifies this: a progressive electronic structure, full of eerie Auto-Tuned warbles, gives way to a guitar solo that can only be described as (and I’m sorry for this) glorious. It’s cheesy and totally out of place, but that was always the point of OPN, wasn’t it?