Age Of finally removes the human perspective from Oneohtrix Point Never.
Daniel Lopatin’s music is about data, computer culture, and corporate detritus, but it’s always been filtered through the nostalgic, loving gaze of the human consumer. His 2010 Eccojams tape, one of the earliest examples of vaporwave, warped the hits of his childhood into ambient drifts that resemble the way we remember those songs, or the way we might half-process them hearing them in a mall or restaurant. 2013’s R Plus Seven looked back wistfully at early computer culture, while on 2015’s Garden of Delete he ribbed his teenage self for buying into the canned angst of the ‘90s alt-rock.
It seems like no surprise, then, that he’d include “Toys 2,” a self-described demo reel for how he’d compose a soundtrack for a Pixar film, on his 10th Oneohtrix Point Never album Age Of. It comes as even less of a surprise that it’s fucked, warped, far from kid-friendly. What’s more surprising is how little it has to do with the ‘90s digital-age optimism that spawned Toy Story. Instead, Age Of asks a question you might have wondered while watching Wall-E or the Cars movies: where did all the humans go?
Age Of finally removes the human perspective from the Oneohtrix Point Never project—save, of course, for the listener’s. Instead of humanity engaging with computers, this is the sound of computers engaging with humanity; Lopatin isn’t interested in being the middleman. Rather than antiseptic synth tones and cold digital textures, the sound palate here is composed of strings, harpsichords, and guitars that evoke Renaissance or baroque music. But they’re played with a spidery precision that suggests the army of digital robots Aphex Twin commanded on his Computer Controlled Instruments EP.
“Real” cues are all over this thing. There are more vocals here than on any previous Oneohtrix record, both sampled (a faint snatch of opera in the title track) and recorded from scratch (Lopatin sings on a few tracks, as do Anohni and Prurient’s Dominick Fernow). But they don’t fill in the spaces in Lopatin’s music with ebullient human spirit. Instead, they feel like ancient snatches of song and voice inadvertently triggered by some robot rooting through our junk long after we’ve left Earth—if you will, like Wall-E popping in his DVD of Hello, Dolly! for the thousandth time to soothe himself to sleep.
Lopatin’s still capable of creating gorgeous sounds—the end of “Toys 2” is one of the most gobstopping moments of beauty in his discography—but moments like these are rarely allowed to continue uninterrupted. Lopatin often cues up a sound once during a song, then cuts it off with no warning, like a flock of crows that frequently shows up at the beginning of “myriad.industries.” And harsh noise is a constant—either quick blasts that explode at random or sickly, distant swells that threaten to subduct the entire mix.
It’s a remote and pessimistic album, as you’d expect, but it’s also some of the most sincere music Lopatin’s made. There was always some level of criticism in Lopatin’s art—an awareness that the promise of the early computer age derailed into dystopian paranoia, or that ridiculous music can be transcendent when remembered the right way. Age Of isn’t about cool po-mo recontextualization of cultural trash. Its emotions are simpler: apocalyptic dread, plus curiosity at the possibilities of what will come after.
Longtime fans of Lopatin’s work might be less receptive to this music than newer fans, if only because it challenges how we’re meant to respond to a Oneohtrix Point Never album. It doesn’t come with any pre-packaged cultural cues from the ‘80s or ‘90s or whenever. Its Twitter rollout was a series of disjunct images ranging from a giant earth-mover to a nuclear-themed sandwich—a paper trail leading nowhere. Lopatin trusts you to find your way. He forces you to use your imagination, to put yourself in the shoes of some post-apocalyptic straggler and reconstruct human culture from scratch.