Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal LP / Returnal 7" (Editions Mego)
2010 was a bit of a renaissance for Mego, who seemed to have receded from view a bit after the semi-commercial splash of Fennesz’s Endless Summer in the late 90s. To me, Mego always meant “noise,” whether that was full-on blistering feedback or some more amophous, vague, non-musical term. This may be due to the associations I brought to label owner Peter Rehberg’s music as Pita, an aesthetic that seemed to really drive the label in its earlier days. Pita’s records could certainly be abrasive, walking a line between overt noise and digital glitch music; he always struck me as a bit of a provocateur, testing people’s (his own?) limits for listening. But maybe the thing that had permanently made me associate Mego to Pita to noise was Rehberg’s brief but assaulting performance at 6odum in Chicago several years ago, a wall of screeching digital laptop noise that had anyone without earplugs holding his fingers firmly in his ears. What’s most refreshing about Mego’s revamp as Editions Mego is that the label seems more willing to come in from the limb with much more “musical” material… perhaps the severe glitch music of 2000 or so had just run its natural course, or there were financial motivations for crossing over, but regardless it’s a welcome shift in focus as the label has been producing some really high caliber releases even in just the last year. All of this exposition is intended to set the stage for Oneohtrix Point Never, the solo project of New Yorker Daniel Lopatin. The music on his 2nd album Returnal begins with a bang, a cacophonous five-minute sprawl of dissonant and shrill electronics. At first one might think this is good old fashioned Mego at its finest, but this is just a first splash before Lopatin explores more varied territory. What’s striking about the tracks on Returnal is how wonderfully synthy it all is, recalling at times the twinkling haze of Blade Runner’s Vangelis score (“Stress Waves” for example). The title track is the most immediately accessible if only by virtue of a vocal (albeit completely obscured by vocoder) and a pop chord progression, recalling a tinge of Lopatin’s 80s flirtations in his side project Games. It’s a glimmer of pop in the midst of Lopatin’s sea of sound, often ebbing and flowing with effects, warbling sounds, layers of synths, a floating journey that’s well worth it. The Returnal 7" reprises the title cut in a totally new way, distilling the song from Lopatin’s usual arsenal of sound and instead opting for a stark piano accompaniment to the vocal, this time sung by Antony. It’s a gorgeous complement to the album, emphasizing the song underneath the layers of electronics. Fennesz turns in a blissed out reverb-happy reworking of the Antony version on the B-side, bridging the divide between the 2 different versions of the track (album vs. single). The combo of album and single make Oneohtrix Point Never an impressive contender when reflecting upon the best music of 2010; seeing his performance at the Seattle Decibel Festival in September only increases his cachet for this listener. Highly recommended!