[8 February 2010]
Daniel Lopatin, who makes music in Oneohtrix Point Never and Infinity Window, has been unofficially nominated as a representative of the glo-fi/chillwave/hypnagogic axis that currently has the internet buzzing. In some ways, the music on Rifts feels, appropriately enough, both out of and in synch with these loosely defined tags. The analogue synth-heavy tracks are metric and measured, and hence are rarely loose enough catch any “waves”, let alone any chills (though the icy cool of the sounds do occasionally deliver a chill down one’s back). Though most of the material of Rifts was originally released on cassette, these cuts are by no means no (g)lo-fidelity, and the mastering job by James Plotkin adds an extra crispness and piquancy to the mix. The juxtaposing sea of arpeggios and the messy hive of cold drone confusion that make up the bulk of this volume perhaps play best to the hypnagogic tag, though their proximity to waking life is only obscured insofar as the listener believes they may have heard or dreamed this music before.
The dyschronia one experiences listening to Oneohtrix Point Never is similar to the aforementioned axis in that it is music that is strangely familiar and familiarly strange. We can never tell if the sound we are listening to at any time is a fresh corpse, a newly excavated ruin, or something altogether outside our current notions of place and station. That Lopatin professed in an interview with Tiny Mix Tapes influences as far reaching as fusion, Tarkovsky soundtracks, the chiptune of Metroid, and Creel Pones is telling in this regard. By sticking to ambient sounds and rejecting percussion, Oneohtrix Point Never defies a direct lineage. Lopatin gets a ton of mileage out of the ridged sine waves of arpeggio and, like that arpeggio, reforms his historical context as a jagged line to the present. At times, a piece may sound like the backdrop to a PBS nature documentary. During other moments, you’re sure this is pure komische. Or could it be rave stripped of its dancefloor propulsion and backbeat?
In the latter vision, the warehouse has been cleared. Bu rather than the fading decibels reverberating into the urban night in a post-ecstasy shattered dream comedown a la Burial, the strobe is still spinning in the warehouse, radiating strips of light onto the debris and the neglected architecture. One track is brilliantly titled “Zones Without People”. Much of Rifts indeed feels like communication technologies carrying on without the influence of anything but themselves and their own mechanical history, surrogate from human involvement, including Lopatin’s presence. “Parallel Minds” even takes on a kind of pulmonary pattern, retracting and expanding its synth-accordion lungs in wistful loops, a machine yearning to breath free.
The double-disc set is a collection of recordings created between 2007 and 2009, centered around the “trilogy” of album-length releases Betrayed in the Octagon, Zones Without People, and Russian Mind. They’re not completely faithful reproductions, however. Certain tracks from each of those recordings have been left off, and deep cuts from other releases have been added, presumably to make the experience flow better together. Yet, one almost gets the sense that arranging the track order at random could yield just as exciting and interesting results, even though there are distinct tones to each of these three segments.
Betrayed In The Octagon, the earliest release and the chronological jump-off point for Rifts, is the most arcane and uncanny of the three, seeming to congeal from a post-noise Big Bang. Parts I and II of “Woe Is the Transgression” intensify the dyschronia by a Ligeti-esque wailing smog of sounds that evoke a prehistoric anamorphosis. “Format and Journey North” quells field recording of woodland creatures with relaxed, lapidary chord gradations before exploding into an epic synth thrust. This disruption of the whole placid scene feels like the Temple of Doom opening up from underneath a Tangerine Dream. The glistening synths are so rare that they’re brittle, and collapse is imminent throughout the album.
Lopatin has no qualms about austerity. Witness the sheen off the proudly stripped exoskeletons of “Russian Mind”, “Lovegirls Precinct”, and “Transmat Memories”. It’s no mistake that there’s a track called “Learning to Control Myself” (which is perhaps the most wily and chaotic piece on Rifts). The album is a control system, a series of equations with differential variables and constants, making for a sublimely heady series of surprises and implacable concoctions. Rifts is two discs, yes, but it never feels long. Contrary to conventional ambient wisdom, its best pieces don’t even clock over four or five minutes. One welcomes its weird geography and strange beauty as a home away from home, a lost dream. The spaces of Rifts continue to feel like a return, even as one discovers new reasons to hit repeat at the close of each disc.