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My favourite album of 2013
on 16 December 2013
With each successive album Daniel Lopatin proves himself to be the most interesting album-orientated producer making music today. Possibly the most interesting musician in general.
When I first heard his music (probably 2009ish) I thought he was a guy with a very nice synth collection, who knew his way around an arpeggiator and could fuse that Tangerine Dream/Vangelis/Steve Roach axis nicely with the hypnagogic sound that was popular at the time. Then with Returnal he went one step further, and after the initial burst of rocket blast noise, showed he had found a new, more focussed sound. The washes of twinkling synth waves weren't the meandering, cul-de-sacs of the Rifts-era albums, but instead resolved, progressed, mutated and most importantly there was much more variation than before. Each track was distinct yet flowed together seamlessly across the album. Then with Replica, rather the the culmination of the years of previous work that Returnal was, Lopatin revolutionised his sound. The smooth, glossy vistas were (mostly) gone, replaced with, at times, angular and jarring samples of piano and videogame snippets. The lush synths are still there, only obscured by the samples and the presence of much more activity in each track. I felt this was a giant leap forward and wondered where he would go from there.
The first couple of listens through R+7, I liked it but only Zebra and Chrome Country really stuck in my memory. Everything else just seemed enjoyable but kind of vague. Some shamisen here, some digital synth choir there, a Philip Glass and Paul Lansky reference here, a bit of booming pipe organ there. But those elements amounted to such a minute part of the whole album. It was the bits inbetween, the parts where I have no clue how or why Lopatin chose to make the musical choices he did that make this album so special. I must have listened to this album over 2 dozen times and yet something new and different would wind it's way into my brain after each listen. I can see some people finding the constant stopping and starting of the music, moving from one idea to next somewhat frustrating, but I think this keeps it from becoming stale at any point, and forcing your ears to actively engage with the music throughout. It's never at any point needlessly abstract or impenetrably cerebral though. There are some heartrendingly beautiful moments on here. The final track especially is like a reward for listening through, Lopatin plopping a slab of pure joy right at the end to perfectly bookmark the work, recycling the organ from the opening track.
If anyone is familiar with Lopatin's Chuck Person moniker, they would know he was a huge influence on vaporwave, and although his Eccojams seems somewhat crude or dated compared to later vaporwave, it's clear that R+7 uses some of the same concepts behind that genre without ever adhering to any of it's tropes. Not wishing to be banal (but I will be anyway) this is post-vaporwave, it's a transcension. I'd imagine he's been influenced by people who were influenced him, and now he's took it to another level to restart the cycle.
Finally, whether you like this album or not, it surely proves that Daniel Lopation is not just a bloke who likes to noodle around on vintage musical equipment, but a skilled and learned musician and, hopefully his art is worthy of your consideration.
If he improves upon this album in the same trajectory that all his other subsequent albums have over their predecessors, then his next album will be a real treat.