Across his first seven albums, Daniel Lopatin has released some of the finest retro-futuristic electronic music of the past ten years under the Oneohtrix Point Never moniker. Lopatin’s music takes its main influence from 1970s and 1980s synthesizer music — the first era when human creativity started to interact with the personal computer’s potential. In the same way that the music of the early 1980s foregrounded thought of humanity’s interaction with technological evolution (and revolution), Lopatin’s work is an inquiry into the potential of manufactured worlds.
His first three albums, collected in the epochal box set Rifts, are trance-inducing arpeggiated synthesizer excursions that feel like the middle ground between Vangelis’s Blade Runner soundtrack and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II. His next albums, Returnal and instant-classic Replica, focused on cultural nostalgia, occupying a hypnagogic place where memory and reality collide. Built from Youtube samples Replica made cultural detritus leaden and sad. It was as if Lopatin was peering into the past’s ephemera, trying to find something real to hold on to. His next albums, R Plus Seven and Garden of Delete, expanded his palette to include richer production and a more varied sonic palette. While all his work is aggressively introspective, these latter albums tapped into aggressive sounds, taking in a greater influence from industrial music and hip-hop than ever before. (This could partly be explained by Lopatin’s opening gig for Nine Inch Nails on their 2014 tour.)
After years of going on record and saying that he’d like to make music for films, Lopatin now returns with his eighth full-length album, the soundtrack to the Safdie Brothers’ New York City thriller Good Time. Lopatin’s move into film scoring feels like the next logical step in his artistic progression: while there is little on the Good Time soundtrack that explores unknown territory for Oneohtrix Point Never, the album presents an accessibility and scale that Lopatin has only previously been working toward. A piece like “Bail Bonds” feels new in the context of his oeuvre as its roiling synths marry a needling guitar and drum programming that channels stadium-rock percussion. The album opening titular track is one of Lopatin’s richest compositions: after teasing with an ambient intro, the piece goes through multiple crescendos and resolutions, all the while maintaining a steady, but uneasy pulse till its scattered ending. Where before Lopatin might have separated these movements into different songs, here he melds them together to form a greater whole, illustrating his deft musical awareness and increasing ambition along the way.
In a lot of ways, Good Time feels like the most mainstream synthesis of Lopatin’s output thus far. The music here actively channels the influences of his youth — sounds that many of us are familiar with from movies, television, and video games — but makes them new and relevant given the propulsive nature of what we’re hearing. There are certainly other artists making music similar to this, but few do so with such energy and control. Even the album’s more incidental-leaning tracks like “6th Floor”, “Adventurers”, and “Ray Wakes Up” illustrate his continued precision, as Lopatin imbues his sound collages with sectional movement that shift between balmy ambient beds and scratchy percussive textures that are reminiscent of Brian Reitzell’s fantastic work on NBC’s Hannibal.
Good Time ends with “The Pure and The Damned,” a collaboration with Iggy Pop that is far and away the album’s biggest digression. Shedding much of the album’s retro feel for the first half of the song’s running time, Lopatin turns in a piano-led piece that is reminiscent of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s work for The Social Network. But the collaboration cunningly illustrates the tongue-in-cheek awareness of its makers. Across two spoken word interludes, Pop alternately talks about the dream of living a pure life, but never reaching it as well as, through death, going to a place where “we can do everything we want to / And we can pet crocodiles.” Midway through the song, feedback blooms into a beautiful synthesizer figure that could easily have come from Another Green World. Designed to be the closing credits tune, Lopatin and Pop transcend easy resolution and falsified emotion by hitting a strange new place that’s human, warm, and simple. Like the Good Time soundtrack as a whole, the closing illustrates that Lopatin’s growing accessibility hasn’t dulled his artistic greatness.