Review Summary: "it's not that I don't get it, I really think I do. We wanted it to be different, but that ain't happening any time soon."
Daniel Lopatin's musical output has always followed clear patterns, but none has so obviously borrowed from previous releases than Age Of
. Early projects like Zones Without People
had much more to do with drone and ambient, repetitive sounds with little form but loops, a style echoed on "Last Known Image of a Song." Albums like Eccojams
expanded off of this, displaying an atmosphere of nostalgic revivalism, creating the vaporwave genre in the process and spitting on the ideas of taste - a less obvious influence for Age Of
but one shown through the clear taste for old sounds and aesthetics. You can see it on the album art, Carpenters-esque fashion combined with a blatant commentary on media worship, just as Replica
was a fever dream of channel flipping. The next phase in Lopatin's discography was both triumphant and anxious, with R+7
and the Commissions
EPs both full of crescendos, arpeggios, and chops, audible in "Warning," aside from a brief vocal segment. Garden of Delete
brought the anxiety all the way out of the corner it was hiding in, stretched it into some more traditional instrumentation (harpsichords especially), and layered it thickly with a spread of nu-metal angst. This period's influence is extremely obvious in "Manifold," "The Station" and "Still Stuff That Doesn't Happen," all songs which could have fit as bonus tracks on GoD
easily. In the end an artist can only innovate for so long, and this album is, ironically enough, showing its age already, which is perhaps the point.
That's not to say Lopatin isn't doing anything new here. Traditional song structure is something most artists do too much of, but using it on occasion here (on "Same" especially, an exercise in musical formality previously unheard of in his catalogue) lends a lot of credibility and solidification to the albums' themes of history, change, rise and fall. Much has already been said of the vocal tracks - never before has he directly just song on a studio release, a rare form of bravery for any producer. This courage was perhaps what allowed for direct contributions from other artists for the first time (ANOHNI, James Blake, and Prurient) who helped make this project something different. Another factor that separates Age Of
is its shattered structure and emotional variations. Sudden screams interrupt the most peaceful of songs, peace and war co-existing. The tracklist drops from the Phil Collins-esque "Babylon" to the warped solo piano piece "Manifold" to the tense looping song "The Station" to the oddly hopeful "Toys 2," a highlight of the album that sounds like someone corrupted a 32kbps .WAV of "My Heart Will Go On" and then stuck it in that Windows 98 fish screensaver. This timbrecoaster is certainly an expansion to the Oneohtrix Point Never catalog, and as such deserves to be applauded. Listening to this album is definitely an experience, certifying his continued place in the "weird frontier" post-2010 innovation canon.
But within all the stuttered strings, static and Age of Empires II
worship, there needs to be something more. What really draws people into Lopatin's work, and art in general, is always a sense of ascension, often a sense of connection to something greater than themselves. This is nothing new for any good artist to understand and strive for, but ultimately, everyone fails from time to time. Despite the environmentalism, the split into four ages, and the audible lyrics, Age Of
feels kind of pointless at times. It's certainly not mundane, but perhaps cramming all of his previous successes into one work and blending them together with new ideas was not the best plan, as it comes off genuine and well-meaning but ultimately without a strong core. That's not to say that it's not worth repeat listens, or that it isn't still a far more exciting listen than almost any other artist today. It's just that this album is so full of ideas that it doesn’t really have any room for the most important ones to leak out when chaos and order are so busy fighting.
Ultimately, we're stuck repeating the same thing over and over. People move in patterns, constantly, without fail. We can snap out of the loops if we try, but most never really achieve more than simply creating a more complex system of habits. This isn't necessarily bad. It can be cathartic at times, and is useful if not essential for our survival and success. But in our worst times, the repetition can be almost deafeningly dull, taking over our senses in the worst ways. Our attempts to break free of this must not merely be towers of nostalgia, attempts at reliving our past wins and losses in order to feel something like we used to. The only way we win is by doing something new, truly getting out of our comfort zone and exploring new territory. We will eventually fall into habit again, but we have to keep trying if we want to triumph over ourselves.