Review Summary: The looping state of mind
In July of 2009 Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never / Ford & Lopatin) began unanimously posting a series of mysterious YouTube videos under the alias "sunsetcorp". The first of these videos was simply titled "angel", and featured an array of odd clips such as demonstration tapes of early VHS players, neon video feedback loops, and a cute Asian girl smiling and waving hypnotically to a camera. All the while a slowed down, glitched, and pitch shifted sample of Fleetwood Mac's "Only Over You" played over it. The song was nearly unrecognizable in this hazy, distorted trance of spinning dead technology and humidified color in grainy 240p. Seen through the eyes of a late night insomnia junkie such as myself, it creates a dizzying and intoxicating effect that's gone on to spawn six sequels of nostalgic retro-fetishing loops, featuring the likes of Roger Troutman's midnight vocoder to Rush's spiraling progressive sonics.
This sound has influenced a number of artists who take their own spin on the exhausted ecstasy of retro crazed postmodernism that could only exist in this digitally inclined, multimedia-convenient age we live in today, where the art of sampling can be a universally adapted trait. Beer On The Rug, self-proclaimed "record label and fun machine", cradles the best of these wide-eyed bedroom disciples. The most interesting of their prospects is Mediafired and his/her/their album The Pathway Through Whatever. A quick Google search of the name renders a laughable "Did you mean: mediafire?" and a tumblr page which consists of thirty two different variations of cover art for the album. These variations include a giant caffeine free Pepsi can, a slick looking boy band covering for a photograph, Kate Bush's face expanded by the RGB color spectrum, reverbed cover art of Van Halen's Balance, and the classic Windows logo with other 90s tokens of nostalgia surrounding it. While it all comes off like a hyperactive kid's final project in a high school graphic design class, these images are all reflected on the loaded and free-floating sample world that is The Pathway Through Whatever.
Most of the album doesn’t consist of sampling in a traditional sense, where sounds are scattered throughout a mix to beef up a track, or where one sound after the other meets in linear fashion to correspond in harmony. This is best heard on "Innuintendo", which dawns the album in a dazed echo jam of velvet-strung guitar delays and cluttered vocal accents, before frothing the mix into the eclipse of a voice liberating the listener to "surrender" and "be free” of the sounds to follow. That liberation comes in the form of "Pepsi Van", illustrating a palpable interest to comply to the natural structure of the songs it samples. Any trace of the source material has been thrown by "Pepsi Van"’s loud, bubbling hollers, reminiscent of an 80s hard-rocker, met by a gorgeous, sweeping guitar solo slowly coiling into itself. When the spiral finally stretches out like a four-year-old verse a slinky, it goes by the name "Inner Jerks" and is where the album hits its first and only weak spot, as a repetitive bark directs a deadpan groove that fails to end up anywhere as compelling as the first two tracks.
The halfway point of the album is a textbook echo jam. Brought to life by a surreal video of super models Cindy Crawford and Tyra Banks drinking Pepsi, "Pixies" takes a four second sample of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" and loops it in a succession of indecipherable hymns drenched in waves of reverb. It's a haunting listen as the mind slowly lulls to a drowsy trance, before slowly fading away to the neon obscured shopping malls from whence it came. When the lights come back on with "Cinderella’s Big Score", various pitch-shifted vocal delays cut through a blanket of reverb, like an auto-tuned choir singing through a shredded VHS tape. It's the sound of confusion at 2:30 in the morning watching Saved By The Bell reruns to distract from a wretched hangover. It was a night of heavy drinking, with memories of the dance floor serving themself well on the following track, "Spring Is Here", where the sounds of an intergalactic boy band thumb throughout an intoxicated headspace of strobe-lit shuffles and slow-clap confetti, unenviably echoing "the end is near."
The album closes with "Tender Age", which drowns and suffocates scattered samples of Backstreet Boys’ "I Want It That Way" into an ambient mist of the smoke, slowly bellowing out the exhaust pipes of a commercial airliner soaring high above clouds. These varied sounds through The Pathway Through Whatever are similar in structure to ambient composers such as William Basinski and The Caretaker. A number of the looped sounds throughout can be compared in effect to the first half of one of Baskini's Disintegration Loops, or The Caretaker's haunted ballroom hooks. Both construct music that manipulates the notion of time through deviations in structure, which ultimately can expose emotions unfound in traditional arrangements. Mediafired's technique also points to what DJ Screw was pioneering in the 90s, by re-examining songs (in this case, hip hop) and alerting them to a state unique from their source. The Pathway Through Whatever's success is its ability to mix such emotions as nostalgia and desperation from its distorted samples of popular music that has succumb to the hands of time. These are sounds reduced to fragments of a bygone era, slowly broken down as if they were real, tangible objects to those still listening in after all these years.