Published Oct 29, 2020Magic Oneohtrix Point Never is something of a self-titled record. Having once misheard the station ID announcement of Boston's Magic 106.7, experimental music mainstay Daniel Lopatin decided to adopt the moniker of Magic Oneohtrix Point Never for his 2007 debut Betrayed in the Octagon, before dropping the 'Magic' for subsequent albums.
Like some eponymous releases, MOPN presents a summation of everything that came before. The nod to Betrayed in the Octagon and the suggestion of a radio-like format primes listeners for a kind of fictitious greatest hits. Lopatin is in control of the dial, turning it to show the listener all of the musical modes Oneohtrix Point Never has occupied throughout a decade-plus career. The shredded samples of Replica are here. The displaced and defiled new age palette deployed so gracefully on R Plus Seven makes an appearance. There are even hints of the weaponized corniness of grunge and nu-metal that underpin much of Garden of Delete.
This is one of the ways in which MOPN falters. The tracks that harken back to previous records mock the aesthetic focus and conceptual tenacity that Lopatin employed then. It is unclear how or why an artist historically so adept at tactfully mining nostalgia has lost that tact when the depths he is now tunneling through are musical tropes of his own making.
The album does not do much better as a celebration of radio. The "Cross Talk" segues provide an initial bit of charm in the way they present stitched together samples expressing the sometimes joyous and sometimes jaded relationship we have with the airwaves. Still, it is not enough to pull MOPN out of incoherence. Most of the album's songs lack any kind of discernible relationship to each other. That lack proves decisive. Even a radio playlist has a sort of internal logic. When you remove the landmarks that give your listeners a sense of direction, however opaque, your adventurousness starts to look more like disorientation.
MOPN gives flashes, if only sporadically, of what Lopatin's music might sound like if firmly rooted in the present. 2018's Age Of first flexed Lopatin's burgeoning ability to work with more streamlined forms of songwriting, but some of that album's awkwardness was due to the fact that what we were hearing was scrapped Usher demos. In the intervening years, those scraps were pressurized into diamonds. Between Lopatin's now famous score for the film Uncut Gems, his credits on the Weeknd's After Hours and the appearance of an OPN baseball cap in photos of supermodel Emily Ratajkowski, it is clear that Lopatin's output occupies an increasingly unique cultural space.
MOPN is compelling when it leans into that space unabashedly. Tracks like "Long Road Home," "I Don't Love Me Anymore," "The Whether Channel," and "No Nightmares" exemplify Lopatin's newfound confidence in his ability to write an absolute banger. It's a shame that the momentum of these tracks is stalled by an attempt to recapture the experimental grandeur of albums past.
Lopatin's pop sensibilities are already weird enough. MOPN would have landed much better if it abandoned the balancing act between the past and the present in exchange for wholehearted embrace of Lopatin's current realities. Lopatin has proven to us that he can deliver hits; it's time that he believes it himself. (Warp Records)