A psychedelic voyage between the airwaves of life
No one takes the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” more seriously than Daniel Lopatin. For the Brooklyn-based electronic experimentalist, better known by the moniker Oneohtrix Point Never, repurposing the discarded scraps of musical waste into hypnagogic pop and ambience is the name of the game.
Lopatin doesn’t shy away from anything. His catalog of work incorporates samples of old baroque pop numbers, kitschy ’80s ads and jingles, vintage synthesizer remnants, you name it. Lopatin’s war room of sounds and snippets runs deep, and he brings everything to the table on 2020’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never.
Magic Oneohtrix Point Never is much more than just a personal statement piece for Lopatin; it’s a philosophy that stretches far beyond the realm of the musical. The record’s title, a mondegreen interpretation of the Boston radio station Magic 106.7, whose airwaves have become cosmically intertwined with Lopatin’s life, is itself a part of its theme of transformation.
“The things that I try to understand about my own life and being an avid musical listener and how much that’s influenced me as a musician is kind of apparent on this record,” he explained. “That metaphor of transformation is something that I came to by thinking about the radio.”
Lopatin takes listeners through a sort of radio cycle, shifting the sound and mood of the project as he morphs effortlessly from kitschy drive time sounds to lonesome late night broadcasts. The whole thing feels alive—new sounds and ideas take shape from the primordial ooze of the previous ones, constantly reforming and reshaping into entirely different versions of itself.
The album’s first act takes place in the morning. Listeners awaken to a chaotic, spliced-together collage of nostalgia before “Auto & Allo” (meaning ‘self’ and ‘other’) guides the hazy confusion into a fully realized structure. It’s a perfect set-up for the synth and string-laden “Long Road Home,” which introduces the project’s thesis (“We don’t rely on ‘There’s nowhere to go’/ We realize that the soul grows”).
Next comes the Midday Suite, introduced by the inquisitive interlude “Cross Talk II.” A Frankenstein’s monster of sampled radio broadcasts ponders, ”Somehow the music we all grew up listening to/ Doesn’t relate to our adult reality and our new dreams,” as Lopatin struggles to make sense of the current realities he faces. He attempts to reconcile his confusion on the poignant and crushing “I Don’t Love Me Anymore,” with its lonesome droning synthesizers. Lopatin materializes that emotion on “Bow Ecco,” and its glitzy tornado of synthesizers before trying to make sense of it on “The Whether Channel,” where featured rapper Nolan Berollin reaches a moment of clarity: “You don’t gotta be it, just imagine.”
Sending off the Midday Suite is the ethereal ballad “No Nightmares,” featuring the distorted vocals of The Weeknd and Caroline Polachek. It’s hard not to envision a glorious sunset as the track crawls along in a dreamy, soothing stew of synthesizers.
Act three focuses more on sonic transformation, with the tracks “Cross Talk III,” “Tales From The Trash Stratum” and “Answering Machine” serving as vehicles for Lopatin’s experiments with layered sounds. To put a flourish on that concept, he ends the passage with the absolutely enchanting “Imago,” an incredible display of decay and rebirth that will bring a tear or two to people’s eyes.
Things take a decidedly cynical turn when Lopatin arrives at the station’s early morning hours. There’s an overwhelming sense of loss on the epic ballad “Lost But Never Alone” and a panicked reaction on “Shifting” before the sky opens up into the pensive and emotional “Wave Idea,” which sounds like a sort of rebirth.
And finally, Lopatin achieves clarity on the delicate, ephemeral closer “Nothing’s Special.” He acknowledges that he’s lost some of his luster, but he eventually centers himself and finds solace through a deep appreciation of everything and nothing: “I’m still impressed/ At how special nothing gets if you stare long enough.”
Magic Oneohtrix Point Never tells the story of Lopatin himself, of his love of creating treasure from musical trash, of his embrace of transformation. But it’s also a story of life itself, its fluid and ever-changing nature, its cycles and its highs and lows. And listeners can’t help but find comfort within Lopatin’s psychedelic radio broadcast because, as weird and experimental as it is, it’s a conglomeration of all that’s come before it and a stepping stone for all that comes after.