[1 October 2013]
Here’s a confession. Barely a minute into my first listen of R Plus Seven, I was struck by the bracing futility of reviewing it. Not because it isn’t excellent—it is—but how do you describe this stuff? Throw the word “glitchy” around and hope the aural indicators get through? Namedrop a pretty handful of drugs you imagine Daniel Lopatin may have used during its recording, none of which you’ve actually sampled? Front as if you have a genuine sense of precisely how Lopatin constructed this particular batch of dizzyingly intricate sonic puzzles? That I won’t do.
But let’s back up. R Plus Seven is the third or so studio LP by experimental knob-twiddler Oneohtrix Point Never, the nom de plume of Daniel Lopatin, also of Ford & Lopatin, though his most interesting work falls under the OPN moniker. It arrives two years after a significant critical breakthrough, the feverishly warped Replica, which chopped bits and slivers of audio from 1980s commercials into inscrutable compositions marked by formless synth tones, spare piano, and disembodied children’s voices. The result was heady, dreamlike, and brilliant, neither fully melodic nor rhythmic but propelled by interwoven hints of both melody and rhythm.
Lopatin could have done well by repeating Replica’s inimitable bag of tricks. Wisely, he hasn’t as R Plus Seven is more of a departure than you’d expect, and it’s an excellent one. As on Replica—and Returnal before it—Lopatin puts hazily familiar aural signifiers of the past to work in the construction of sound pieces that are fiercely, almost effortlessly futuristic. But here, “glitchy” actually isn’t the descriptor that comes to mind. R Plus Seven is the first OPN album where adjectives like “majestic” and “lush” are substantially more applicable. In brief, R Plus Seven deemphasizes Replica’s sense of walled-off claustrophobia, letting thick puddles of light filter into Lopatin’s lair of sound.
Samples still abound, but Lopatin’s preferred textures have shifted beyond lo-fi commercials and children’s toys and into the far grander realm of the ‘70s experimental minimalist tradition. That’s readily apparent 90 seconds into the opening “Boring Angel”, when a steady organ hum explodes into a majestic arpeggio pulse that, at quadruple the length, could have been cribbed from Einstein on the Beach. The piece’s lengthy opening and 15-second coda isn’t a fluke—Lopatin has discovered the church organ, one of several elements undergirding R Plus Seven’s more earthbound textures.
Elsewhere, R Plus Seven contains at least two more uncanny nods to Philip Glass. The best of them is “Zebra”, a stuttering burst of staccato orchestral jolts that plays host to Lopatin’s trademark layering before collapsing into a soupier but no less dreamy mélange. “Americans”, by contrast, feels mesmerizingly indebted to Steve Reich. It’s one of the album’s brightest cuts, opening in a burst of what closely resembles summery birdcalls and climaxing in a shimmering cycle of xylophone pulses. Lopatin splatters the mix with hushed choral-voiced tones (think Music for Airports, “1/2”) that are key to R Plus Seven’s kaleidoscope sensibility.
R Plus Seven’s eerie underbody culminates on the dark, searching “Still Life”. Slight missteps dot the trail—“Inside World” feels unfinished, a scattering spurt of sonic elements that never coalesce, while “He She” rumbles with the sort of groaning harshness the producer has largely left behind—but they do little to disrupt what Lopatin has accomplished. The closer, “Chrome Country”, thrusts towards a stirring crescendo of disembodied “Ah”s, panning piano arpeggios, pipe organs—maybe even a singing saw?—that fades out in a burst as warmly, humanly melodic as anything Lopatin has constructed. Some, I think, will miss Replica’s inscrutably alien flourishes. That’s fair. But the producer’s singular aesthetic hasn’t been compromised. It has simply expanded.