You can tell from the opening seconds that Daniel Lopatin was ushering in a new kind of ambient soundscape with his 2011 masterpiece
You can tell from the opening seconds that Daniel Lopatin was ushering in a new kind of ambient soundscape with 2011’s Replica.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Rippling, breathed, waterlogged, kaleidoscopic, sure. Nothing new emerging there. But seafaring? The combination of sun-bent woodwinds and distant rattling chains that give way to some kind dream-state tabla fighting with angry underwater sharks at the end of “Andro” plunged the listener directly into some kind of sunken hull. “Power of Persuasion” – a reference to Replica’s prominent array of tidbits from late-night commercials – proceeds from there with tense samples chopped via skipping CD and yet another blown element, mournful droning horns that sound like they’re signaling some kind of ship entering a foggy harbor. Or maybe they’re not. But the opening six minutes of Oneohtrix Point Never’s 2011 masterpiece and unlikely breakthrough are as scene-evocative as they are lovingly constructed.
From there we get “Sleep Dealer,” the most memorable track, and by then we’ve got an idea of the toolbox: keyboard samples cut jaggedly between note transitions like a bad loop, literal exhalations used as percussion and punctuation, grittily angelic voices layered beneath the stuff. Another neat little flute hook that flits between these patterns a few times. “Remember” is a little more conventional, for sampled ambience anyway, but it maintains the album’s luscious trick of always sounding like something new is bubbling up to the surface. Its percussion hits are so few and far between that they sound like cellar doors slamming in the distance. Like “Andro,” it ends with some kind of scrambled worldbeat, in this case a strangled horn sample that Eno and Byrne would’ve thrown into the mix circa 1981. The title tune is all detuned atmosphere and one-note meditative jazz-film piano you just know Kendrick Lamar was getting his groove to.
The meaning of all this is touch. Lopatin’s chamber of sonics reaches out and grabs your ear throughout, whether it’s chopping notes prematurely to emphasize the blunt impact of each one or letting each yellowed piece of pixel-paper get its musty cork-sniffing. He makes fake digital history of the real world and vintage broadcasts of alternate timelines from the artificial one. “Nassau” and “Up” actually cut up rhythms, the former with distorted mic taps and bubbles and humming bystanders, giving it a feel not unlike Flying Lotus’ android goosesteps the year prior, and once in a while his ageless otherworlds crash into those created by Boards of Canada or Jon Hassell.
But Replica doesn’t really replicate much; even Lopatin’s other albums foreground keyboards and synths rather than seeking out more samples like these late-night TV scores. It’s like he knew it was too good to try and repeat. But it isn’t particularly exhausting and considering the conceptual pretensions of later works like 2015’s Trent Reznor love letter Garden of Delete, he could’ve had more to say in this mode; the particularly aggressive “Child Soldier,” a slamdancing cousin to James Blake’s early EPs, is not the kind of title some chillwaver just slaps on his bong soundtrack. “Submersible” is, though, and “Sleep Dealer” is almost a comment on the genre itself. But what is the genre anyway?
These days, music is more likely to be classified by its functionality for a Spotify playlist. It’s the tenth anniversary of a collection you can clean to underwater, whether vacuuming in the bathtub or steam-cleaning a submarine.
Replica is music for the fractured shimmer of the sun as viewed through a diving bell. You too can listen to it and come up with descriptions that ridiculous.
VIDEO: Oneohtrix Point Never “Replica”
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