The Weird Sounds of Summer

Eerie new albums from Oneohtrix Point Never and SOPHIE

Published: August 7, 2018Words: Macon HoltArtist Link: www.pointnever.comArtist Link:

June saw the release of two albums that, in very different ways, seem to offer some insight into the oddness of our world right now. It seems that it is becoming ever more difficult to decipher what information we should trust or even what is real. And, all the while at least in Denmark, we’re living through a heat wave which has no business on these shores, and that suggests something real is happening. Something that is seemingly too terrifying to even attempt to understand. In this mess, art and music can be illuminating, just so long as it doesn’t try to make things totally clear.

The most recent records from Oneohtrix Point Never and SOPHIE are such artworks. While reviews often come out at the point of release this has never been a convention that has made a lot of sense to me on any level other than logistics. For me, music needs to sink in a bit before I have any idea what I’m hearing or what it could mean. Having been living with these albums for the last couple of months, I think I may have started to make some kind of sense of them. And I think it’s because of their uncanny fit with the strangeness that is all around.

Oneohtrix Point Never — Age Of

Oneohtrix Point Never is the solo project from super producer, Daniel Lopatin, who has worked with the likes of James Blake and ANOHNI. His latest offering, the enigmatically titled, Age Of, sees him take the frenetic collision of elegant textures and intense beat based electronics of his previous albums and push into a radically unexpected direction; that of new age spirituality run through an uncanny valley filter. A search for meaning in a world that seems to be functioning frightening well without it. A response to the terror of artificial intelligence and the desire for authentic stupidity. The use of sounds like harpsichords and plucked guitars produced clean enough to be identified but as if through frosted glass, harkens to some kind of humanist spiritual hunger that is at once undercut and paradoxically supported by the chaos of the distorted synths and samples. Lopatin’s own vocals, which rarely featured on previous releases, carry a kind of unrecognizable anguish. Something that is at once very human but also unmistakably tangled up in something else.

The production is a master class in the manipulation of individual sonic elements. But more than that, the overall sonic world Lopatin has sculpted is that of a stunningly particular retro-futurism that is unsettlingly current. On “Toy 2”, we find something like a Hans Zimmer film score from the 1980s being ripped from the Hollywood imaginary and placed into something all the more confusing and more real. A fantasy that grapples with its uncomfortable implications. The discomfort is all the more evident on the stand out track “Black Snow”, which features lyrics ripped from the inhuman horrors of 90s cyber theory. When delivered by Lopatin’s deadpan vocals, the textures of this track, like many of the others seem to be fighting so hard to drown out these proclamations of the machine world to come, but to no avail.

This a record of rabbit holes that will reward those curious enough to weather what it has to show you. Age Of ties a red thread between the technical realities of our lives, the parts of ourselves we like to imagine as somehow humanistically pure and the virtual images we use to keep these realms apart, and pulls on it, causing a collision we had hoped would never happen, but now that it has, its pretty damn exciting. The question is, is there another side to make it through to?

SOPHIE — Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides

Songwriter and producer Sophie Xeon, who performs under just SOPHIE, has been making work that breaks the convention of pop music, hard industrial dance music and personal identity for almost a decade. But with Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, her first LP of entirely original material, she has rewritten the rules of the game itself.

The album’s opener “It’s Ok To Cry” throws a curveball from the get-go. The track plays in that space opened up by the queer fandoms of artists like Madonna and Whitney Houston. Rather than just being an homage, however, what Xeon has done is delve into the avenues of potential that saturate this space. The subtleties of the production, the clarity of the breathy vocals, the unnerving lyrical sincerity, the fantastical words created by the different reverbs, all put this track beyond what it emulates. We are not hearing what’s good about Whitney Huston, we are hearing how important she was to the formation of someone imagination. But it is with the next track, “Ponyboy”, that SOPHIE follows this route into utterly uncharted territory. The aggressive incessant kick drum on the vocal hook—a pornified female vocal, as well as a parodical pitched down macho vocal—delivers a lyric of gossamer veiled fetishistic sexuality, which ruptures the sentimentality of what came before. And yet it still feels of a piece with the previous track’s desire for connection. The track that follows, “Faceshopping”, lays down the stakes of this apparent clash. All the fakeness, the uncertainty of reality, of identity is stuck in a constant recombination of commerce, personhood, appearance, and actuality. The super aggressive metallic synths force us to recognize something dehumanizing in our desires and makes us stay in that space of horrific self-knowledge, before letting up for a moment with a melismatic vocal interlude that once again channels Houston. A moment later, we tumble back or perhaps jump, into that chaos of complicated lust.

From here the rest of the record goes on to continue folding in these elements in different combinations, exploring the possibilities of different genre conventions but always pulling you towards a dance floor, where you might actually learn something about yourself. Though what you find there may not always being comforting, it will be something you know to be real. In a world saturated with shallow nihilistic irony, SOPHIE does not so much stand against it but show that she can play too and make so much more at the same time.