Oneohtrix Point Never – Zones Without People (Arbor) LP
Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never is another in the long line of vintage synthesizer-wielding cosmic voyagers to have launched skyward from the US avant rock underground in the last few years. The difference is, where most of these acts concentrate on reviving the sound of 1970s space rock, Lopatin focusses on synth music from the early 1980s.
Crucially, his music evokes that moment when digital technology started to enter the mix, brining a more clinical, alienated sound to synth-based music. It’s significant that the current homepage of Oneohtrix Point Never’s website features a prominent image of Roland’s 1982 digital/analogue hybrid synth, the Juno 60. Meanwhile, albums like Zones Without People immediately bring to mind the kind of slick soundtrack music Tangerine Dream were churning out during the ’80s.
Another crucial factor that marks Oneohtrix Point Never music out from the crowd is the fact that it is not fundamentally reliant on extended drones. Instead, Lopatin lets his arpeggiators do most of the work, painting airbrushed landscapes from precise, pointillistic little medlodies. Yes, drones are used – but sparingly, to provide impressionistic strokes of colour.
The most important difference between Lopatin and his peers, though – the thing that makes his work truly worth hearing – is that he is not really interested in mere pastiche. The arpeggios may seem to stretch off into infinity but their continued existence is often called into question by the looming promise of chaos. Essentially, this is new age music with noise attitude – an approach that will be familiar to those of you who remember Coil’s “Red Birds Will Fly Out of the East & Destroy Paris in a Night”.
Zones Without People is part of the suitably conceptual Rifts trilogy – a sci-fi-themed epic that was recently compiled as a double CD on the No Fun label. The three original vinyl LPs seem to be out of print but Mark over at Expressway managed to hook this here blog up with a reasonably-priced copy of Zones, thus enabling all manner of inadvertent astral travelling. Heck the gorgeous “Zones Without People” itself would have been worth the price of admission alone.
Seriously, Lopatin is to be applauded, not only for rescuing a whole era of experimental rock/electronic music from critical neglect but for doing so with real imagination, where others would fall back on irony.