I like to make my DRC decisions early. Usually within 24 hours of one meeting I’ll know what I’m going to present at the next and will have it on hard rotation for the fortnight running up. This time around I was stumped for a couple of weeks. I felt I wanted something clean and sharp to offer contrast to last month’s Biafrademic and to make the most of Nick’s bright and sparkly set-up, but after 10 days’ scrolling and browsing, flicking and pondering, nothing was pushing its way to the front of the queue.
Step in then ‘R Plus Seven’, a record I’ve been intending to bring since I first heard it and now can since Santa’s elves were prescient enough to bash a copy together for me.
Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, came to prominence self-recording his work on vintage samplers and synths, which he used to create collapsing drones in decaying electronic spaces. His discography is hard to pin down, with a couple of cassette releases and split albums floating about, but ‘R Plus Seven’ is his latest, released last year.
It’s a disorienting house of mirrors. Most tracks come over like six tracks randomly spliced together. Very few have genuine through lines. Most switch into and out of exquisitely composed sections wilfully and with no rhyme or reason. Whilst there are no tracks with any real form of beat (‘Cryo’ and ‘Still Life’ have dubby pulses partly running through them), it’s a record which manages to feel mobile through it’s sheer energy. There are exquisite things going on here with cut up human voices and strings. It’s also full of light and disconcertingly static, as if the listener is walking past a series of unconnected exhibits in a cathedral, each encased in highly polished glass.
It’s an incredible record, in the truest sense of the word. It made very little sense to me on first hearing and it’s almost as surprising and ungraspable on the 100th listen. We speak often – Tom in particular – of difficult records slowly giving up their hidden patterns and structures. I tend to experience, or at least identify, that process less often than the others. ‘R Plus Seven’ gets more and more beautiful with each spin but, somehow, meaning and sense seem to recede ever further into the distance. And that’s one of the reasons I love it. It seems that one of the dominant themes here is dissipation. Track after track hints at some coming coalescence only to drift apart bewilderingly. Nothing goes where you are expecting it.
Take ‘Zebra’ for example. It kicks off with bright, stabbing synths which 20 years of dance music tell us are going to coalesce to be joined by a rhythm track and then generally groove about for a few minutes, possibly building to a climax. But there are other counter sounds nagging away at it, pulling it down. Instead of hitting the dancefloor, after 60 seconds, the whole thing is wiped away to be replaced by choral voices. Then it’s all back 30 seconds later to be joined by a second, underpinning bass synth line signalling ‘hey folks, here we go!’ and then less than a minute later they are gone again. The remainder of the track is a slow, drifting fog within which seems to grate and grind some unknowable machine. Although the perky opening has gone, the possibility of its return creates a seeping tension for the remaining four minutes. Spoiler alert: There is no resolution. The track, you realise, has destroyed itself from the inside whilst maintaining its beauty throughout.
What’s going on here? A rave pastiche? A death allegory?
Even more remarkable than Lopatin’s ability to pull off track after dissolving track, is that he somehow manages to collecting and shepherd these separating points into a meaningful whole. I think that’s profound.
I’ve read several people discussing the record as a paean to the sounds of 1980s home computer sounds. I don’t get that. To me it’s a digital firework display being held in a church, the Internet Age version of someone swinging wildy around the FM dial, splicing together found noises into a jump-cut collage. All of which makes it sound like a piece of art, rather than a piece of music. The miracle of ‘R Plus Seven’ is that it is as intoxicating and compelling as any record I’ve heard recently. I can’t think of a single reason why it should hold together, and that it does just bolsters my admiration for it.
Ultimately of course the binding force is Lopatin’s artistic vision. I can’t conceive of the foundations which underpin this creation. I can’t even glimpse them as I listen and listen again, but they are there. I don’t expect to find my way to them any time soon. In fact, I hope I never do. Whirling my way through this fun-house is way too exciting for me to want to know its secrets.
As a final aside, when I first lined this up as a DRC choice, I would have said it was like nothing we’ve heard before. Then Tom played the John Wizards album for us a few weeks ago. To me the similarities were marked, albeit with completely different aesthetics and means of production. I loved that one too.
Nick listened: Daniel Lopatin is one of those artists who’s been in my orbit of awareness for what seems like aeons, but I’ve never felt compelled to take the leap into investigating his catalogue, or even consciously listened to him as far as I’m aware (beyond one long, pleasant drone track played at the other record club by Jon). Why this is, I don’t know; his records are acclaimed and seem to fall, from what I read, into part of the Venn diagram of my tastes. So I was glad Rob played this. As he suggests, like the Jon Wizards album it did move around all over the shop, which has left me, after one listen, without a sense of how good it is – because I suspect one would need to get to know the contours and juxtapositions and what-happens-next-ness in order to, y’know, pass judgement. The track Rob made us shut up for (“Zebra”) is a case in point; I think it was wonderful, but it was so confounding that I can’t actually recall any of it, despite paying really quite close attention at the time.
Tom listened: It’s funny how differently we hear things. From the many conversations we’ve had over the years on such matters, it appears as though Rob hears records for the first time in a very different way to me. He is an impressively efficient assimilator of information and is therefore much more definite in his reactions to records having heard them once than I am. John Wizards took a fair few listens to really click with me – Rob seemed to get it from the get go. Having heard it some more…I wonder whether he hears it differently now (care to shed some light on this Rob?).
So I feel very aligned to Nick’s point of view on this. My gut reaction was that this would be one of those records I would grow to love but…it’s so abstract and unstructured and (in direct opposition to John Wizzards) its musical palate is quite minimal and cold, that I couldn’t say for sure. To sum up: intriguing? Yes. Beautifully producedand constructed? Certainly. An amazing piece of work? Possibly…
Graham listened: Certainly an “out there” type of album. So much so it inspired me to start rambling some nonsense about shapes of audio construction and structures as it made its way out of Nick’s speakers. On occasion it felt like there were physical structures starting to fill the room. The fact it mad me think that way certainly shows it has impact! The way it teases you into thinking that some recognisable beat/melody is just around the corner, hits the border between intriguing and frustrating. Would have to get to know it much, much better to sit back and relish its potential.