Yea, I couldn’t sleep on this one.
I have been following Oneohtrix Point Never for quite some time. I even put two tracks from him up in my epic ambient mixtape.
What I missed though is this vaporwave story, so I had to do some research e.g. over here. After R+7 came out I started to hear the term “post-vaporwave” here & there. Sean (Autechre) answered the question “What do you think of OPN new album (R+7)?” with:
brilliant, weird as fuck
like he folded vaporwave inside out
context got obliterated, music just got handed a ton of new parameters
As I respect Autechre I’d like to know what all this fuss is about.
That was my introduction. Let’s dive in my official Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven review.
What strikes me first is the free form. Or better: the form is more free than deep house, but not as free as, let’s say, Thelonius Monk or Alban Berg. It is definitely pop but without sticking too much to the old-fart pop-forms. This aspect deserves a mention, because it’s the main achievement of R plus 7. It is one of the reasons why I love (making) music – a challenging game of forms. It is also what creativity and art is about: NEW SHIT. Deep house, e.g., is more of a craft for me: You got your tools, you know how to work them and you know the deep house forms so you start to build and maybe grind away at the basic sculpture step by step (fluffy highhat vs hard-hittin’ hihat or more shuffle vs less shuffle). OPN on the contrary tries new, unpredictable macro-forms. Gestalts get abruptly replaced by other Gestalts. I think pretty much all the reviewers see this point. But why does he do that? It’s fucking fun. Producing this “music-as-craft” – thing bores my ass to death, that’s why I also do this surprising shit in most of my music. If you have been listening to pop music for a while and you have some degree of general intelligence (to put it bluntly, but I’d like to find out what this actually is by writing these reviews), you can’t hear/make this boring genre stuff anymore – it is too easy. At the same time it took me quite a while to separate myself from the genre-style approach to producing. It was only last year (after around 7-8 years), when I started to make free music (coming 2014). OPN is one year ahead in the form-category, but this is where my criticism starts. Enough text for a moment – listen to an example of the “free macro-form aspect”:
excerpt from 2013 “Still Life” from R Plus Seven by Oneohtrix Point Never (01:30…)
What strikes me second is the oldschool, cheap timbres (hello General Midi & QuickTime Synthesizer). Of course he chose them on purpose, but why? I remember vaguely that in some interview OPN says that he likes this cheap synthetic voice thing. OK, but why? I also kind of like them and I have an idea why: They rarely appear in recent electronic music (if you missed the vaporwave-hype), which makes them less boring than a filtered saw-wave bass-timbre – at the same time I was aware of their existence as a stylistic device, but I always found them too synthetically-ugly like some nasty US-food. Now OPN steps in and uses them extensively. And that’s an understatement. He arppegiates the hell out of these embarrassing timbres and it can be pretty funny. A clever, ironic idea! And also part of the weakness. How often can I find this funny and why should I listen to this album again, if this joke starts to wear out or annoy me? This seemingly meaningful WTFness of the whole vaporwave-movement is very transparent and sad. Oh SNAP, that’s the point – I see the sad fails of capitalism clearly now, thanks! How could I overlook this crazy hell of capitalism? Damn, I trapped into the irony-troll-trap. Nevertheless, it was also pretty sad to find out that vaporwave is a real striving microgenre and not only one concept-album. You enjoy funny concepts? Try slowed-down Gabber. Or some more from R+7:
excerpt from 2013 “Boring Angel” from R Plus Seven by Oneohtrix Point Never (03:00…)
It is also clever because this was already in the air. By his exaggerated usage of oldschool-synthetic-sample kitsch OPN built on an already existing MEME and made it even more mainstream. I don’t care about who was first – it’s not my point. OPN is not that original as some newcomers may think. If you want more about the notable visual aspect read here how OPN’s collaborator Jon Rafman stole the fuck out of a hard working tumblr.
What about the feel of harmonies on R+7? Most of the melodies are “nice & polished” – my GF commented with a “lovely” – while I was listening/writing. Yes, OPN has got good intuition when it comes to recognizing pleasing harmonies. If not pleasing, the harmonies often feel pathetic and thereby contribute to the overall ironic feel. It is pretty much easy listening, which is OK. But it is also why so many people rage about hipsters: What’s behind the “clever” irony? If there is nothing then we got some dystopia-pessimistic shit going on. Shit is shallow. Like one gave up on searching for some meaning in life, some positive personal life-philosophy. Hipsters still hyping, OPN is hyping (This is not my point of proof). I don’t think OPN sees himself as a hipster, but have you ever heard of someone who thinks of herself as a hipster? Some bubbly entertainment:
excerpt from 2013 “Along” from R Plus Seven by Oneohtrix Point Never (04:20…)
Driving towards a conclusion, there is no innovation in timbres, but there are many different ones, which is a +. Sound design is at its most up-to-date only in some rare moments; also no classic rhythmic innovation, but the bubbly arrangement of samples is entertaining. Just clean quality on the side of production and mastering. I can’t find any sincere-deep-touching harmonies like over here at burial’s either. Here are some burial-child-voices for a matching comparison:
excerpt from 2006 “Forgive” from Burial by Burial (00:30…)
One more point why OPN might work for lots of people, me incl.: The arpeggiated samples, crappy synths and creepy synthetic voices juxtaposed (yes, as a music journalist you have to use this word once a month) with the surprising arrangement of bigger sample chops contradict with their cheesy crappyness to the pleasing harmonies which they constitute! This builds up a positive, affect-full tension. I speculate that this wasn’t exactly OPN’s intention, but that he kinda unconsciously felt and pushed this instance. Listen to hear an example of the “creepy-coolest” moment:
excerpt from 2013 “Chrome Country” from R Plus Seven by Oneohtrix Point Never (01:15…)
At least it’s funny, a little fresh and at times quite cuddly and entertaining. It’s fresh because so many other producers are boring and lazy as fuck and not because it’s really fresh. It sounds like mediocre-normal cool music in my perfect world of music. That’s why 5/10.
I also don’t buy all this theoretical post-consumerism, post-capitalism bullshit. If you like some real theory on that try Marx or an Anarcho-Syndicalist or a Futurologist…. For me it’s either you enjoy music or not and understanding how is hard enough already. If you enjoy squeezing out some impotent theoretical-associative-social-criticism-interpretations of music it’s aight with me. I don’t care about feeling proud of inventing some intellectual-sounding, metaphoric interpretations though, but in general critics seem to love LPs with much room for interpretation, so have fun listening to them!