It’s safe to say I have gone down the rabbit hole with my music. With interesting new internet-born genres emerging in the electronic underground, particularly the kitschy new “vaporwave” that has manifested in recent years, I find myself questioning what people are indulging in these days. To a conventional music listener, what makes up this recently established genre is seemingly contradictive of what people have traditionally labeled as “good”, and it has widely piqued my interest since learning of its existence. Vaporwave, popularized by eerily anonymous artists such as MACINTOSH PLUS and PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises, is a genre of subtle mystery. Aesthetically speaking, vaporwave artists bask in deeply nostalgic remnants of dead technology and commercialism, which is including but not limited to: computer software, home shopping channels, menu screens, elevator muzak, corporate jingles, Windows 95, in-door shopping malls and video game loading screens, mostly representative of the 80s and 90s. The tunes that were spawned from this particular era are seen as nostalgic for some, though what listeners get from it beyond nostalgia is very ambiguous.
Oneohtrix Point Never’s latest album, and Warp Records debut, R Plus Seven, is not vaporwave. What does one have to do with the other? This bizarre genre and the even more bizarre album being reviewed here both have a way of hypnotizing the listener with the most seemingly unlikely of resources. Daniel Lopatin, the mind behind Oneohtrix Point Never, makes a drastic departure from his previous body of droning, haunting electronics (a few of his works even considered to be prototypes of the vaporwave genre) and opts for something a bit more indescribable. R Plus Seven is an adventurous body of music, one built from the ground up from distorted chopped-up vocal samples, eerie midi sounds, disturbingly inhuman angelic choirs, and a vast array of seemingly contradictory pieces, like a beautifully confusing collage. Songs warp and change constantly, breaking down only to be rebuilt from totally fresh new pieces, sometimes to the point where you’d swear a new song has started. A primary and early example of the album’s nature is showcased in full on “Americans”. The album’s second track plays out akin to a lush and playful dance through a vibrant forest of colorful sounds and hideous samples, appearing to lose its focus midway through, but returning near the end with a beautifully abstract bouquet of sonic flowers in its arms. And much like a stroll through a forest, R Plus Seven is rich with things to explore, and a curious mind will discover many things.
So if R Plus Seven is a forest, it is one littered with decrepit, monolithic computer hardware of old; turned and yellowed Apple mice sleeping like rocks in the grass, shattered computer monitors with weeds growing from the inside out, and floppy discs cracked open and buried slightly beneath a layer of dirt and grain. It is a postmodern painting (or rather, a .jpg), a slightly heartbreaking look at the feels-like recent past we have discarded, or rather, are still celebrating. This is also the essence of the vaporwave genre, and though Lopatin’s latest offering doesn’t belong in said genre, it manages to say similar things that the genre does in a more astute fashion. Instead of an exercise in minimal-editing and basic chopped-and-screwed sampling that genre contenders like MACINTOSH PLUS are credible for (see: a frequently-mocked edit of Diana Ross’ “It’s Your Move”, which is just the song slowed down to a 7 minute length) or the numb and dry midi jingles of PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises, Lopatin composes something that is nostalgic but frighteningly foreign, evoking unusual emotions that feel quite inhuman, as if it were music made for robots, by robots. It doesn’t take much to sense the bleakness present in tracks like “Still Life” and “Along”, but there’s something ominously present in the synthetic walls of R Plus Seven that reveals itself upon repeated listens. With that said, this is music for the adventurous, or rather, the soundtrack to the lost and wandering thoughts that blow through your head. Oneohtrix Point Never captures a digital photograph of a ghost manifesting on run-down corporate streets in the middle of the night. Witnessing this and the mysterious vaporwave genre, it’s possible I’m not the one going down the rabbit hole; it might actually be music as a whole. But that just further accentuates the album’s delicious postmodern outlook that is so worth exploring.
Caution: music video on front page is NSFW!