Armed with a bleak, postmodern vision that’s as indebted to Philip K. Dick as it is to Aphex Twin, Daniel Lopatin has quietly risen, along with the likes of Tim Hecker and Mark McGuire, to the forefront of drone music’s recent resurgence. His most recent effort, last year’s Returnal, was one of the best ambient releases in years, showcasing Lopatin’s creative range from the deep, ponderous sprawl of “Where Does Time Go” to the vocoded melancholy of the title track. Even so, Lopatin often came across as overly self-conscious on the record; the inordinately harsh opener, “Nil Admirari”, for instance, felt deliberately hostile and posted at the record’s start to ward off any wayward easy listeners who’d happened upon the album. Even the grace of its striking title track – exposed later on Antony‘s hauntingly spare piano rearrangement – was obscured by layer upon layer of synthetic camouflage.
Replica catches Lopatin at the peak of his powers, realizing his esoteric vision with a newfound brazenness, clearly helped along by the success of his recent work with future-pop outfit Games/Ford & Lopatin. Only one track here, Replica‘s vast closer “Explain”, outlasts the five-minute mark, and nearly all of its 10 tracks are among his finest, most memorable to date. The title track, especially, evidences the strides he’s made as a producer, opening with a desolate piano theme that’s gradually swallowed whole by a weightless wave of drone, though not before leaving its wordlessly poignant impression on the listener. The same could be said for “Sleep Dealer”, whose meticulously fragmented melody and lighthearted nostalgia, which somehow never feels regressive, speak volumes more than any sung or spoken lyric ever could.
Daniel Lopatin’s greatest strength, though, aside from his singular inventiveness, is his coherence as a musician. Where most music of this sort fails is the elusive art of songcraft; that is, much of what Oneohtrix’s work is lumped in with are more like arcane compositions than actual, self-standing songs. Tracks such as “Power of Persuasion” and even the playful, Street Fighter-sampling “Child Soldier” are surprisingly listenable (even catchy, at points), and Replica‘s charm only grows with added listens. Indeed, Replica often plays out as the abstruse Oneohtrix Point Never moniker implies: like a series of FM radio transmissions from some far-off, twin parallel universe of ours, not peculiar to the point of total alien-ness, but certainly too strange and outlandish to be of Earthly origin.
Essential Tracks: “Replica”, “Power of Persuasion”, and “Sleep Dealer”