Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal
Returnal (Editions Mego EMEGO 104), the fourth full-length release from Oneohtrix Point Never, explodes into the listening room (or out from the speakers or out from the headphones) with real violence and penetrating force. We are thrust into a heavy storm, a maelstrom; we find ourselves standing beneath an ocean of falling glass, falling sky, falling electronic haze. If instruments could scream, their screams might sound like this, like the opening few moments of Returnal, moments that don’t seem like an opening at all, but someplace else, some other time that escaped us, that started without us, before we were ready. I don’t mean scream in the way that guitars and saxophones and other instruments can and do scream. I mean that if instruments could be dealt such pain that they were brought to life, given sentience, to wail with wonderful suffering, it might sound like this, like the opening few moments of “Nil Admirari.”
At about 4:30, I’m pretty sure we do hear the sound of a man screaming, plummeting as he screams. And, just then, as his screams begin to overtake those of the instrumentsthe computers and the ghosts and the hazeit (the pain) fades away, almost as if we’re falling with those instruments and with that man, and we find ourselves in the soft, gentle glow of the heavens, or something like the heavens, scintillating, wavering white and orange light filling the listening room as though we were being rewarded for getting this far.
And then the whole of “Describing Bodies” (what a beautiful title) is a blissed-out, slow-moving trance. OPN is giving to the listener, being extremely generous with the listener. “Stress Waves” grows out of this calm wash and, for perhaps the first time here, we are with melody, synth sounds bouncing against one another, gently, playfully, dreamily rising and falling and subtly shifting and sweeping across the soundstage, to greet the listener like soft breezes, and there are whispers in the dense layersmassed voices, gentle cries, the remainder of echoes washed ashore.
After such density of sound and emotion, “Returnal” surprises with its sparseness, its lightelectronic pulses and things bobbing in the seasomething like flutes, something like plastic tubes or those Brazilian things that squeak and squawk, the roar of the lion, the friction drum, the laughing gourd, the cuica, and finally we’re treated to vocals, multilayered and processed so that they’re never quite discernible: Another side of full? Another silo full? Another dark dawn? The sound of love? Love is so small? Visualize dark thoughts? The internet is what? Returnal, you’ve been here the whole time.
Maybe. The words are whatever you want them to be, maybe.
“Pelham Island Road” is another hypnotic and pastoral trip, perhaps along some dark, coastal way, tall grasses sweeping against our rims, blowing in the wind, crickets, seagulls, the moon bright overhead, maybe wolves, maybe sirens, too, maybe the memories of children playing under the clouds.
With “Where Does Time Go,” we have these pulsing (always pulsing) pitches, expanding into and contracting out of the listening room, exhaling from the left channel, inhaling through the right, while a steady wave draws circles in the center of the stage. Listening to this through headphones is a mind-altering event, but listening through well-placed speakers is even more thrilling.
“Ouroboro” (the eternal return, damn) is sad and beautiful, of course, like oceans crying, with hints of ivory keys, hints of brass, hints (really) of Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way, and then it’s gone, and then. In “Preyouandi,” there is so much water and so much wood, blocks knocking against blocks, fragmented moments of techno beats (the intelligent kind) and tinkling percussion, chimes, and scrambled electronics, all largely centered in the soundstage but sometimes spilling out over the sides, like more water, over the lip of a pointless container. There are voices again here, singing what? A moment of tribal (maybe aboriginal?) percussion, wooden balls bouncing across the ground and rolling off into the distance, the end, the delicious end.
All music by Daniel Lopatin. Recorded and mixed at Ridge Valley Digital, Massachusetts. Instrumentation: Akai AX-60, Roland Juno-60, Roland MSQ-700, Korg Electribe ES-1, Voice. Recorded using a personal computer. Mastered by James Plotkin. Tape-op and additional engineering by Al Carlson.
Available on CD in a nice digipack, and LP in a gorgeous gatefold cover.