As monumental as its acronym, here Daniel Lopatin mixes all his previous styles into an impressive magnum opus.
Daniel Lopatin, real name of the artist behind Oneohtrix Point Never (I’ll never get enough of this name. Sounds like a radio station from a Douglas Adams’ story), has now officially established himself as a big name in the electronic scene. To me that had occurred since Replica, from 2011, an album that actually sounded like nothing I had ever heard before - unfortunately, an event that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. But, when I say “officially”, I mean undeniably. I can’t see how Daniel could fly under the radar and not be considered from now on one of the most influential electronic artists of the decade. Daniel’s defining 10s electronic music like Richard David James defined 90s.
I can understand, to some degree, how Replica’s public might have been limited. It heavily used sampling in numerous tracks, making it also a plunderphonics work (another name that I love very much. Sounds like a group of looters in a dystopian, highly stylized, cyberpunk story). These samples weren’t fragments of pop music, references to various artists still fresh in our memories, or dialogues from famous movies - like many artists in this genre use said element -, but small excerpts of informencials from the 80s. Chopped, repeated, reversed and abused to extremes, creating a very peculiar sound; as for instrumentals, oddities such as footsteps remixed to make a beat. Not to mention the ambient tracks: a dense sound, yet such a bleak and gelid atmosphere. All these elements made me consider Replica an almost perfect work, but they also might have scared away listeners not appreciative of so much experimentalism.
However, in Garden of Delete, accompanied by such a fitting acronym: GOD, I believe the genius from Wayland, Massachusetts, has perfectly dosed pop influences and more conventional instrumentation with the avant-garde and experimental, all that with a giant step toward variety and intensity.
In GOD, all the various styles Oneohtrix Point Never toyed with before are mixed in a sublime and perfect way. From the fascinating noise in Returnal, the sampling in Replica, to the abstract intrumentation and otherworldly atmosphere in R Plus 7, everything, you'll find here. I missed some of the ambient from Replica, but nothing detrimental to the experience.
Like the cover art, an abstract edit of a screenshot from an 1982 RPG, the music here's like a reinvention of all human culture from the last three or four decades. Heavy electric guitar riffs emerge amidst a storm of bleeps, kicks and unintelligible digitalized vocals, only to then suddenly vanish in less than a second. Guitar picking gives birth to electronic instrumentation and then transforms into an ambient hiss. An imposing piano increases tension towards a transcendental climax to then pause abruptly with a telephone bleep and a distorted pop song sample that eventually starts skipping, like a broken CD. Ethereal fragments of all the audio we've ever created.
This experimentation and abuse of glitches I've described may create an impression of an imensely abstract and aimless album. That's not the case. Surprisingly, many tracks here are catchy, memorable and with an almost radio friendly rhythm, at least in comparison with OPN's previous works. No Good, for instance, if not for the immense buzzes that burst after its midpoint, would be a hell of a single; a beautiful trip through the plains of electronic downtempo.
Apparently, GOD is also some kind of concept album, but it's hard to know exactly what it's about. A strange "announcement" of the album was posted on OPN's official website, with a cryptic pdf letter to the fans, a sort of introduction and FAQ made from the point of view of an alien named Ezra, with citations of a fictious "hypergrunge" band named Kaoss Edge as inspiration for the album. Could it be Lopating messing around with the fans, simply talking gibberish to see what banal interpretations we conjure up? I have no clue...
Interesting, though, is how the music in GOD contrasts with this vague narrative. The glitchy beats, the distorted feminine vocals, the instrumentals from different genres popping up sporadically, all sound like Ezra exploring our culture in a distant future, where humanity has long been extinguished and all that's left are the shattered and volatile vestiges of our digital creations, stocked in precarious HDDs on a deserted planet, only barely functional because of Ezra's efforts.
All human emotions seem to be present here, but never wholly. All fragments. Artificial potrayals of past moments, reproduced with so much energy that they seem to imitate perfectly our feelings, or at least the closest thing possible to them that Ezra will ever experience from us.
And it's that almost random variety that makes Garden of Delete shine. In Sticky Drama, we have a punchy and bright beat alongside distorted and incomprehensible feminine vocals that complement each other to create a sensation of sublime ecstasy but, at the same time, a tenuous suggestion of... pain? Loneliness? Maybe longing, as if that happiness was artificial and we were looking all eternity for something more concrete, to no avail. Never something so abstract made such real emotions emerge. And in the same track still we dive in an insane breakcore, bassy as hell, where eventually the vocals are distorted to such an extreme that they become muffled screams, broken and chopped, with an orgasm of high pitched hisses behind the beat in the end. It's like flying through a dark tunnel, hundreds of kilometers per hour, fleeing from a malevolous pursuer, the light at the end approaching, closer and closer, then BOOM, we're out, our eyes hurting from all the sudden light, finally escaping successfully from the danger.
The mixing and audio quality here is impeccable all around, and I suggest you listen to GOD in a good stereo or headphones so you can catch all the details of this journey, preferably without distractions.
Here Lopatin combined all the styles he had been perfecting meticulously throughout his discography, and this may give off the impression that Garden of Delete is disjointed and aimless at times. For someone who loved Bish Bosch, by Scott Walker, so energetically, this aimlessness could even be exhilarating. But I fear that a few tracks didn't have enough to grab my attention and meandered too much towards the unknown. SDFK could have been perfect if it wasn't a poorly elaborated interlude. Eccojamc1 recalled us of Daniel's work as Chuck Person, Eccojams Vol. 1, one of the origins of Vaporwave, but it's also a mere out-of-place interlude. Child of Rage gave me hope to see some influences from the ambient parts of off Replica, but it didn't explore this soundscape enough.
In the end, with such few flaws and so much unforgettable content, Garden of Delete garantees itself a chance to be the album of the year on my list and misses perfection by little. The splendorous garden of memories long deleted. At times so gelid, at others so warm. It's beautiful. Or it's getting late and I need to go to sleep and stop daydreaming looking at the ceiling and listening to OPN.
Album cover: 7/10
A dragon resting on a pile of ruins. The art is an edit of a screenshot from a 1982 RPG, Dungeons of Daggorath, and represents quite well the album's concept. Games, music, movies, long forgoten. Our vestiges, revisited and reutilized to create a surreal wondrous landscape. However, I find it way too minimalist. I like Replica's and R Plus 7's covers better.
1. Intro 5/10
A distorted and extremly extended vocal, to the point of not even resembling a voice at times. In the end, it becomes a laugh. Strange.
2. Ezra 10/10
Full of unexpected pauses, this start made me think my player was broken. Fascinating vocal samples together with chopped pieces of rhythms fill the space,always pausing and alternating between sound and silence. It's like Lopatin had access only to tiny excerpts of corrupted voice recordings and had to remix them. So beautiful. After some time the music explodes and a myriad of bleeps and more samples leak to our reality. (Get it? Leak...) Intense, sublime, alien. When we go back to tranquility, a very clear bass is played and complements the rhythm, deviating a little from the digital. Pianos, too. A delicious juxtaposition.
3. Eccojamc1 7/10
A short interlude that tips its hat to Lopatin's work in his other project: Chuck Person's Eccojams Vol. 1. Enjoyable vaporwave, but Garden of Delete doesn't strike me as an album that needs interludes.
4. Sticky Drama 10/10
The most beautiful electronic female vocals I've ever heard. Distorted and chopped to the point of being unintelligible, but expressing so much emotion that is hard to believe. An engaging and catchy rhythm with abrasive beats. Noisy hisses take over the audio to then vanish and after a brief pause in intensity, the track becomes something I would expect from a Venetian Snares or Igorrr album and we descend in an intense and hypnotic breakcore. Some tasty basses here. Then, another calm part with more female vocals and tranquil beats. Here we hear the first discernable sentence, something like "...this is wrong with the world! People start to disobey..." When we go back to the breakcore, the vocals are distorted, becoming screams and unsettling grunts, as the instrumentals elevate towards an unforgettable climax.
5. SDFK 8/10
A dense and almost dark ambient piece, with buried vocals appearing out of nowhere. Suddenly, drums are battered frantically and energetically, an unexpected tribal vibe, growing and expanding... until an abrupt end. I wished that Daniel would explore here a Fuck Buttons style instrumentation, incessant repetition and growing intensity. But it's just an interlude.
6. Mutant Standard 9/10
Some punching beats here, and much faster. A distorted conversation between a boy and a girl. Fascinating ambience behind the rhythm. The conversation samples remind me vaguely of Music Has The Right to Children. Then the track becomes brighter with hisses and high notes from a piano. A nice progression along its 8 minutes, from a bassy almost tribal beat (agreeing somewhat with the previous interlude) to high pitched electronic beeps. Impossible not to feel the imense energy rush provided by the speed the beat reaches near the end. Liquid sounds add a certain humanity to the digital. The organic and the artificial. Maybe the only flaw in the track was the increased aimlessness when compared to the others and a somewhat anticlimactic ending.
7. Child of Rage 8/10
Fragments of an odd interview and a sad melodyin the background. What the hell is this about? An innocent fight between children or a life of abuses? “Why is your brother afraid of you?” “Cuz I hurt him so much...” This track mixes ambient, with a structure close to that of post rock, with some more "active" parts very well. Although I loved the dense ambience, nothing from the main beat - sounding like a xylophone - stood out to me. This track also dwells too much in disoriented reveries. The ending, though, is so ethereal that made me imagine how an entire album in this style would be.
8. Animals 10/10
The distorted high pitched vocals we're accustomed to are back again, but now with more of a palpable and unsettling sadness. It's almost a lamentation. The instrumental completes the atmosphere and, although slightly minimalist, does its job masterfully. Piano and hisses, with what sounds like a cello at the end, culminate to the most melancholic track in the album.
9. I Bite Through It 10/10
Kicks, bleeps and synths dance in an relentless rhythm full of glitches, like a CD skip being repeated and remixed, changing pitch to form a beat. Snippets of a small interjection appear to form the vocals. The beat gets noisier and intensifies, getting to almost industrial levals, until a wash of noise and hisses hits you with full force and a more peaceful guitar segment comes out of the blue. Suddenly, the vocals are amplified imensily, almost clipping along the way. Even a heavy electric guitar riff emerges, briefly. Pieces of digital memories crumbling. Perfect.
10. Freaky Eyes 10/10
A beautiful ambient at the start, organic yet gelid. Then an elegant piano (or is it an organ?) appears to create the main rhythm. Synths emerge to complement the ambience, bleeps create a cristaline and bright sound, distorted vocals in the background, distant, everything moving towards an iminent climax that is abruptly stopped by a pop music sample. Then the previous rhythm comes back, but more empty and distorted. Broken effects make it sound like the music is from a radio losing its signal. The muffled and digitalized vocals, the insane glitch party that in the end turns into the sound of metal tubes clinking gently... all of this gives birth to an absolutely monumental ending. It's like we have reached the limit of reality itself, where all time and space shatter and we witness what lies beyond.
11. Lift 9/10
A fast digital beat oscillating in volume and abrasiveness. The vocals, syllabic fragments, sporadically wax and wane. I heard a "That I..." in between the excerpts. Electric guitars join the instrumentals unexpectedly. The voices echoe and float, like hallucinations. The atmosphere that emanates here is so fascinating, so otherworldly. Impossible not to feel, simultaneously, admiration and confusion while listening to this track.
12. No Good 8/10
Autotuned vocals that remind me of James Blake, on top of a relaxing and slow beat, with strong influences from vaporwave in some segments. The imense bassy saw waves that invade the melody at the track's midpoint, so energetic, make everything more intense, but without losing the main atmosphere. Very beautiful, but I would have prefered Freaky Eyes as a closer so much more.