Album Review: Oneohtrix Point Never, ‘Again’

    Even when it expands into something grandiose, Oneohtrix Point Never’s music can feel endlessly interior. It’s also part of what Daniel Lopatin, in a recent interview, called “a world of inter-referentiality.” His work can be sonically challenging in a vacuum, but it can also feel alienating as a continuously evolving interrogation of the history of the project itself. His new album, Again, is billed as a “speculative autobiography,” the final installment in a trilogy of albums that includes 2015’s Garden of Delete and 2020’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never. One of the most salient references on the album is the organ arpeggios on closer ‘A Barely Lit Path’, which are lifted from R Plus Seven’s ‘Boring Angel’. But when it comes to drawing from the music of his past, Again goes a little farther than those records by leaning into a kind of youthful naivety. “I was really open, a sponge, delighted by possibility – and I had no idea what I was doing,” he has said of his younger self, and the LP serves less as an outline of the possibilities that lay ahead than the magical playground where cluelessness and optimism meet. The results are less conceptually grounded and more meandering, but still hypnotically replete with elements of beauty and surprise.

    Whether or not it instantly clicks, it’s refreshing to hear the experimental musician – who has worked on two film scores and recently produced records for everyone from Soccer Mommy to the Weeknd – tread back into the recesses of his own mind in a way that can feel disconnected even from his previous OPN albums. The illogical and fragmented structure of Again mirrors the nature of memory as it likely appeared to him as he finished the album in Accord, New York, surrounded by the New England landscape where he grew up, but it is also animated by the excitement of starting a new life – looking back and forward at the same time. His use of AI tools like OpenAI’s Jukebox, Adobe Enhanced Speech, and Riffusion, which are all credited here, might be a way of winking at the future of AI’s capabilities, but even then, Lopatin is more fascinated by how its failures now can produce sounds that are musically unique and strangely familiar in affect – familiar enough to relate it to his own process. “I’d say, ‘I want you to make a Smashing Pumpkins song.’ It tries, and it can’t,” he explained. “That’s a lot like me.”

    Lopatin employs the technology in a casually exploratory way on tracks like ‘The Body Trail’, but lands on something more transcendent on ‘On an Axis’, where an AI-generated loop allows him to dive into shoegaze in thrilling fashion. It’s just one of many unpredictable moments on the album, which begins with the string-led cacophony of ‘Elsewhere’ and hits another peak with ‘Krumville’, a hauntingly pensive, Xiu Xiu-assisted track that descends into something resembling Midwestern emo. But the genre descriptor that looms over much of Again is post-rock, which Lopatin often refracts to eerie, poignant effect. But his excursions, interesting as they may be in the moment, are more so when you take a step back, as memorable and impactful as a dream you can only half-remember. Songs like ‘World Outside’ have both an ambling and disorienting quality to them, evoking the wonder that formlessly lingers through and out of adolescence as he sings, “Isn’t the view so amazing?”

    Whatever feeling Lopatin is after on Again, however tied to the past or the future it may be, it seems to accumulate towards the end. Rather than subverting expectations, he mostly succeeds at retaining our attention with playful detours that are grounded in sincerity, but the record’s hopeful, dramatic final stretch elevates the experience. ‘Memories of Music’ strips the confusion off the sentimentality that’s hinted at throughout and that Lopatin came close to embracing on Magic, using his technical mastery to fuse everything that came before it. But it’s ‘A Barely Lit Path’ that best encapsulates Again‘s ethos. The emotion is sweeping, unrestrained, and perfectly set up, approaching catharsis and even a sense of closure. “If I empty my mind/ Do I scoop out my skull/ What gifts would I find/ Nothing’s inside,” he sings, voice swaddled in effects. “Just a slug that provides/ A barely lit path/ From your house to mine.” It’s a simple offer, but Lopatin makes it so that nothing could be more striking than that moment – even the mere possibility – of true connection. That’s a world worth striving toward.

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    Even when it expands into something grandiose, Oneohtrix Point Never's music can feel endlessly interior. It's also part of what Daniel Lopatin, in a recent interview, called "a world of inter-referentiality." His work can be sonically challenging in a vacuum, but it can also...Album Review: Oneohtrix Point Never, 'Again'