Review Summary: Vaporwave's Sugar Daddy Really Knows What He's Doing
Daniel Lopatin’s music has become the lifeblood of people who choose the word “cerebral” to describe themselves in three words or less, and given his pre-music background, it's easy to see why. During his time at Hampshire College, a private, liberal-arts institution in western Massachusetts, he studied critical theory, and made direct use of its axioms in his hyper-aware approach to creating music.
Back in a 2013 reddit AMA that shortly followed Oneohtrix Point Never’s major label debut "R + 7," Lopatin elucidates the philosophical backbone of his music:
“'Generic' is an idea about presets that is mostly cultural. It’s a problematic differentiator because it presupposes that there is a 'real'. when I remove the difference between real and generic I can approach music production in a materials-oriented way, manipulating the affects themselves, instead of being used by them, to reinforce their stereotypes, histories, etc. this doesn't disqualify 'real' sounds, in fact it gives them a chance to morph which is crucial for me. It’s about flattening all those differences.”
The Oneohtrix Point Never project liberates itself from the culturally imposed limits on specific sound palettes. All preconceived associations that accompany the timbres we hear in contemporary music today (or heard 30 years ago) are eliminated on "Returnal." With this strategy, Lopatin crafts strikingly descriptive music without ever being literal. The sounds on "Returnal" are only ever suggestive of a given cultural mold, or background. Nothing on this record goes so far as to reconstruct a genre outright.
Take "Describing Bodies," an ambient soundscape that doesn’t necessarily evoke imagery of oceans or outer-space as much as it represents, say, the concept of vastness itself. The same goes for opening track "Nil Admirari’s" torrents of harsh noise. The screaming voices, screeching feedback, and turbulent percussion play their parts in rendering an unambiguous chaos of the sonic form. The specifics, the context of this chaotic form is irrelevant beyond its existence within the austere plane in which "Returnal’s" track-list lies.
Lopatin described "Returnal" as his “Rousseau” record, and though the analogy holds water in reference to the record, this comparison can be rather pragmatically extended in the year 2015 as we reflect on the two artists’ monumental legacies. Luckily for Lopatin, his genius has been recognized by critics and fans of the avant-garde persuasion during his career rather than after his death, as in Henri Rousseau’s case. Seriously, it’s incredible to consider that the very deliberate philosophical underpinnings of Daniel Lopatin’s music might as well have been the impetus for an entire musical genre (I’m referring of course to Vaporwave). And yet, it all makes sense when you actually listen to the music. Daniel Lopatin’s artistry on Returnal is strictly depictive of his goals; of his vision alone, and one could credibly say the same for just about any OPN release.