Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal
Editions Mego

Every couple of months or so, a new genre surfaces, along with a few artists singled out as its primary ambassadors. The buzz surrounding Hypnagogic Pop, for one, has grown considerably with the ascendant profile of the genre's current poster child, Oneohtrix Point Never. No Fun Productions helped rouse interest when it recently collected three releases (2007's Betrayed In The Octagon, 2009's Zones Without People, 2009's Russian Mind) into the single-volume, double-CD set Rifts. And now we have Returnal, the debut album proper by Daniel Lapotin under the Oneohtrix Point Never name, which was produced using an Akai AX-60, Roland MSQ-700, Korg Electribe ES-1, and Lapotin's precious Roland Juno-60, a device with a personal history so deep he inherited it from his father. The sonic universe in question is a resolutely synthetic one bereft of traditional instrumentation, with vocals the sole ‘natural' element audibly conspicuous in the mix.

Returnal's opening three-track suite economically shows the range of Lapotin's Oneohtrix Point Never project. In keeping with Edition Mego's penchant for at-times bruising electronic productions, the album begins with a hellacious fireball of cranium-crushing design called “Nil Admirari”—thankfully the album's singular Noise exercise. Its bombardment of squeals, blasts, and vocal wails gradually decompresses, paving the way for the soothing aftermath of “Describing Bodies,” an ambient-drone antidote of synthetic serenity, and “Stress Waves,” a track more representative of the Oneohtrix Point Never style in its sunshowers of synth-generated psychedelia. Lopatin's voice is prominently featured in the album's title track but, true to form, the singing is so heavily treated it functions as an unintelligible smudge that billows in tandem with the track's chugging synthesizer patterns. “Where Does Time Go” seemingly references the Sandy Denny classic but, though submerged samples of it might be present, little trace of the folk song is detectable within Lopatin's incandescent swirl. In addition, there's “Pelham Island Road,” a deep ambient setting of slow-motion washes and tones, the beautiful if brief serenade “Ouroboros,” and the tribal-inflected “Preyouandi,” which brings the album to a sputtering close.

Anyone curious about the Hypnagogic Pop genre could do worse than start with Returnal (even if its lush synthesizer settings exemplify little of the narcoleptic haziness associated with the genre—for that one might turn to something like Oneohtrix Point Never's “Nobody Here,” Lopatin's trippy rendering of Chris de Burgh's “Lady in Red,” or the multiple blissed-out Oneohtrix Point Never videos available for viewing at YouTube), but perhaps one should simply ignore the hype and take the recording on its own terms. In that regard, Returnal offers a commendable and—the opening salvo notwithstanding—certifiably listenable set of beatless, impressionistic electronica borne from the legacy established by Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and others of that ilk. It would be an exaggeration, however, to describe it as sui generis, revolutionary, or even radically original—not that Lopatin himself makes any claim that it is so.

September 2010