Daniel Lopatin seems unable to resist the allure of nostalgia. He wouldn’t be alone in this regard: many electronic artists have dabbled in the sounds of the past in attempts to re-contextualize or crib from the history that electronic music now has. But Lopatin is less interested in the history of his discipline and more interested in that of his own. Much of his work, from his earlyEccojams tape as Chuck Person to 2015’s Garden of Delete, seems to be focused on filtering his experiences with pop culture through the lens of someone older and wiser enough to consider what kind of effect that had on him. Age Of continues that tradition, but this time around, Lopatin is collaborating with others in an attempt to create an experience even more enveloping than what came before.
Whereas some electronic composers struggle to make artificial sounds into something natural-sounding and human, Lopatin uses Age Of to delve further into the uncanny, creating soundscapes that seem just lifelike enough to make their artificiality all the more apparent. The vocals scattered throughout — some of which are performed by Lopatin himself, though Anohni and Prurient appear as well — sing heart-rending, mournful lines, yet their voices are distorted to the point that they’re nearly unrecognizable as human. Initially, this helps to create a soothing effect on the album’s early compositions.
“Babylon”, for example, is mournful in its longing, and Lopatin’s vocoder-laden vocals laid over samples of picked strings create something eerily beautiful. Yet it’s also fleeting, lasting only for a minute or two before the track slowly falls apart. That ends up being the key thematic element for the first half of Age Of: near-human beauty quickly subsumed by chaos.
The second half of the album is where things take an overtly dark turn. After the glitchy interlude of “myriad.industries”, Lopatin snaps the listener to attention with the brief intensity of “Warning”, where the angst-ridden metal influences of Garden of Delete rear their heads once again. The album steadily follows this trajectory, becoming more mechanized and harsh with each new composition. The militaristic “We’ll Take It” sows seeds of paranoia with its spurts of electronic noise and sampled voices, creating something more chaotic than anything else Lopatin has done under the Oneohtrix Point Never name. Even as the album slows near its end, the relief that Lopatin offers from the preceding chaos rings hollow. After all, how can one truly remain serene when one knows the carnage that exists just away from their line of sight?
Lopatin clearly intends Age Of to be his most ambitious work, as evidenced by the well-known collaborators (besides Anohni, James Blake appears as a producer and keyboardist) and the existence of MYRIAD, a conceptual theater piece based on the album. Yet, despite this grandiosity, Age Of is a decidedly lonely piece, the kind of rumination that one could only really listen to in solitude by the flicker of a computer screen.
Lopatin’s fascination with junk culture and how it has shaped the minds of his generation and ones that followed it have been central to some of his best work, but Age Of takes this idea into a strange and unsettling territory. Age Of reflects the odd, toxic, backward-looking culture we’ve created online back at us, encapsulating both the fleeting serenity and unrelenting terror contained within.