Out of all the albums on my end of year list, this is the one I had to wrestle with the most. I never struggled with the album or its accessibility but it made me think long and hard about my albums of the year list and why I choose the records that go on it.
For almost as long as this blog, I have been a fan of Oneohtrix Point Never and have probably written about his music more than any other act. Two of his albums have already made it into my album of the year lists. Out of all the acts that I have talked about on my blog, his work is the stuff I return to the most throughout.
When making my album of the year list, I take a couple of things into account, which have in the past hindered records. Firstly, have I already said what I needed to say about them in another post, Secondly, is the album doing anything new that the artist’s previous work hasn’t done before. This album for me fails at both of these mini-rules I made up for myself. This is why I have struggled with putting it on my albums of the year list, even thought it is the record I have listened to the most this year.
Eventually, the elements I was wrestling with moved to the back of my thought process the more times I listened to the record, and eventually I knew it had to be on this list.
Up until this point, the OPN sound has been both massively defined and amorphous. His sound design and production is so individualistic it verges on the iconic, but since his album “Returnal,” he has always applied it to very different styles of music.
Throughout the past decade of his non-soundtrack albums, we have seen OPN apply his filter to, Rock, R&B and a large mix of electronic genre. He plays with the listeners memories of these genre; a technique that goes back even further to his massively influential “Eccojams pt.1” which looped small sections of mostly 80’s popular music to create washes of undefined nostalgia for the listener of a certain age. A fake dream of an idea, of what music was/is and what it can, can’t and maybe shouldn’t be.
In the past, that was the most interesting part of his work. Hearing how he took the feelings and soundscapes of music you are already attached to and shifted them into his world. On “Magic Oneohtrix Point Never” he goes one step more meta, using the music he’s made up to now as the progenitor for this album.
We’re treated to an audio ouroboros of his back catalog. The album shifts and uses techniques from previous records to create a collection of tracks that will be rewarding to long time listeners of his work, and a “technical greatest hits” for people who are new to his style.
It’s all here. The electronic ambiance of his earlier “Rifts” work, the aggressive pop sensibility of “Returnal,” the vocal sampling of “Replica”, the romantic digital sounds of “R plus Seven”, the vocal synth design of “Garden Of Delete,” and the R&B tinges of “Age Of.” All entwined to make a record that still manages to sound like a complete work, no matter how odd and disjointed the elements can be.
In every review of OPN, I always finish with a bewildered excitement around what he could possibly make next. What genre would he blend into the musical paste of his style. But this time I have a separate feeling. He could just stop. “Magic Oneohtrix Point Never” distills all of the work and techniques he has applied for just over a decade into one complete package. It could easily be a swansong to the work and a perfect sendoff.
However it could also be the beginning of something completely new. Maybe he will change the production style itself on a future record? I am always left with questions at the end of an OPN record however this is a type of question I have never asked before and that is the main reason I had to put it in my album of the year list.
“Magic Oneohtrix Point Never” does something I would have never expected. It holds a mirror up to the previous work, giving you a reflection of your own sentimentality towards the back catalog, and yet it still manages to surprise and leave you with even more questions as to how, why and when will this enigmatic approach stop creating amazing music that dumbfounds expectations.