First release of the experienced electronic artist Daniel Lopatin on the exclusive Warp label, R Plus Seven.
I’ve never been an OPN man personally; every album of his that I’ve heard has always been a confused jumble of sounds and ideas; piercing, emotionally deficient electronic/ambient that meanders along at its own weird pace. It was especially obvious in his collaborative album last year with Tim Hecker Instrumental Tourist, where Hecker’s neat, exacting dreamscapes collided disharmoniously with Lopatin’s crazed and illogical wafflings, dragging the entire album down in a confused haze of half-completed jams. I didn’t, therefore, have high hopes for this new album, but as it turns out I’ve found myself progressively falling in love with it.
Opener “Boring Angel” introduces itself on a bed of organ drone, something which makes its way into the fray on occasion throughout the album. Carefully it builds up, spreading its wings with synth arpeggios that suddenly jump in tempo and start strobing. It’s certainly far from boring as the track unwinds itself, slowly phasing out the electronic melodies and reverting back to the blissful organ ambience from the start. It moves a little awkwardly (admittedly this is a leak so there are some possible faults) into the tropical “Americans”, and it’s like something lifted out of a Secede album. Flashes and flutters of MIDI samples weave in and out of the mix, children’s voices and “ahhhhh”s propelled with jovial percussion, before the track bottoms out in the middle and grinds along in a rising haze of dark drone and glitch beats where it once again changes track and decides to return to the lightweight sampling from its start, with crazed and syncopated percussion fighting for its chance to be heard in a brilliant closing statement.
“He She” moves into somewhat more menacing territory during its 1:34 duration, cruising along at a relatively unadventurous pace before finally cutting off into “Inside World”. Some might find the sickeningly increasing frequency of MIDI samples here somewhat unappealing, but its quiet ambience interrupted with bursts of sporadic samples are like heartbeats or breaths of life into the track, introducing currents of music and trying to revive the dying organism. The disjointed snippets of violins, voices and songs are like the intermittent firings of neurons bridging and remembering, trying to reignite and restart themselves.
As we reach the mid album one of the better tracks appears, “Zebra”. A semblance of rhythm finally appears in this quasi-EDM piece with its strong synth attacks and smeared vocal cries. It comes and goes, cycling through these glitchy riffs and the more drone focused periods of calm, but there’s never a crossover; like the zebra’s stripes it’s always black and white, the delineation between dance and ambient, between calm and energetic, is a strong line in the sand. Interestingly it appears that calm wins out, as for most of the latter part of the track the vigourous electronica dies away and low-key ambience takes over.
This respite of calm thoughtfulness continues on in the especially quiet and introspective “Along”, cruising along effortlessly on a bed of unobtrusive drone for its first half and only slightly creeping out of its shell around 3 minutes in as chimes and panpipe samples cut through, and snippets of birdsong and water drips float in alongside. Again it has a strong Secede vibe to it, and almost a Balam Acab-esque attitude towards the very end as we get a few dark beats in the fray. But this peacefulness doesnt last long as we’re thrown right back into the deep end with chaser “Problem Areas”. Possibly the most driven piece of the album so far it sustains a repetitive wet synth riff going throughout, tacking on those MIDI vocal glitches and other spurious chunks of electronica as and when before flatlining into a wall of organ drone.
“Cryo” makes sure we have something to cool down to before the final two tracks, which is most definitely necessary. Its cold bells and drone and distal shimmering synths balance that energy out once more alongside thick, slowed down drum beats as we move into penultimate “Still Life”, a dark and oppressive track. It’s hard to get a bearing on what exactly OPN is trying to put across in any of his pieces really but in this one especially so; sometimes it crawls with a claustrophobic darkness filled with heavy bass beats, other times a more serene attitude is taken with droning vocals and light shimmers of synth. Then out of nowhere in the core of the track is a surprisingly rhythmic sequence of thick percussion and piercing minor key riffs. It’s a bit all over the place to tell the truth.
Finally we get to the last track of the album, and one of my favourites, “Chrome Country”. Its spacious 70’s synth introduction is gorgeous as it’s accompanied by pleasant piano skitterings and the blurry MIDI samples of child vocals, a nice cooldown at the end of a confusing and complex affair. It still feels extremely detailed and introspective though, relishing these moments of quiet as it languishes on intermittent beds of electronic sound, not planning on doing anything extravagant before it bows out to a brief interlude of impassioned organ playing to finally finish the album off where it started.
I guess this turned out somewhat lengthier and less emotionally resonant than I initially anticipated because R Plus Seven, like all of his other albums, still leaves me questioning what I’ve heard and somewhat dubious as to the cold precision of the electronic, and in many ways in a processing state as to the texture and sample barrage I’ve just been subjected to. The short conclusion is that I like this, a lot; it comes across a bit stark and meandering (very meandering at times), but there’s a cheekiness in the balance of energetic sampling and cool drone that makes this album extremely compelling at times as we have to wonder continuously just what he’s going to throw at us next.