Music Reviews
R Plus Seven

Oneohtrix Point Never R Plus Seven

(Warp) Rating - 8/10

For over 5 years now, Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, has time and again successfully endeavored into the great digital void and brought forth some of the most bizarre sounds that have ever been stuck together in a coherent sequence. However, with his fourth release R Plus Seven, Lopatin has finally emerged with an album so monumentally eccentric that, on first listen, pretty much had me stumped. I’m serious, how do you describe a record that’s more or less a constantly fluctuating soundscape without compromising its inherent ambiguity? Honestly, I really don’t know where to start with this one, guys.

Probably what’s most important to convey here is that R Plus Seven is an album specifically made to be listened to in a single, concentrated sitting. That is to say, there is no solitary moment that stands out over the rest as a “single”, not even some vague micro-groupings of like-sounding tracks. It is purely a distinct, comprehensive unit. With that in mind, it seems sort of counter-intuitive to break down the record into a track-by-track analysis, as the experience doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that. Each track on R Plus Seven seamlessly bleeds into the next, completely eschewing the conventional song-centric sequencing of most electronic albums. Now, that isn’t to say that there are no moments that shine over others. There’s certainly something a bit more exciting about what the glitched-out rave Zebra offers over the more subtle, brooding Along, but that seems like comparing favorite scenes from the same movie -- no matter what particular line or turn of phrase sticks out, it all serves the same greater purpose that only an immersive experience can allow. 

Furthermore, there are moments that I don’t think properly serve the experience on the whole. Despite its retro charm, some of the midi sounds found on R Plus Seven seem more trying than appetizing. While the start-stop contour of Americans is interesting in its own way, the pulsating synth that provides the track’s overall backbone comes off cheesy and is sort of DOA before the track can really go anywhere. Similarly, the otherwise stellar Inside World suffers from the awkward integration of midi-chorus, which sort of leaves the piece partially sterilized until some denser synth-tones begin to chime in. And though He She certainly serves its own function in bridging the album forward, out of context it comes off as superfluous filler material, especially given its relatively short run-time. Again, the strength in listening to this album straight-through is that many of these ‘missteps’ feel like little more than minor puck marks, but they're still noteworthy, nonetheless.

Structurally speaking, R Plus Seven is bound to turn off more than a few listeners enamored with the cohesive ambience and tactile totality found on Replica. At times, the record can sound somewhat analogous to a disjunct sound-collage -- something that Philip Glass would deliver if given a midi-sequencer instead of his native piano. However, unlike a collage, no extraneous force (outside of some clever editing) thrusts these elements together. Everything flows naturally, not a single piece goes without its proper match -- sort of like a sound-puzzle, really. On second thought, it would probably be even more accurate to describe it as a sort of musical Rube Goldberg machine, with each aural abstraction giving way to the next logical step in the sonic chain.

Admittedly, R Plus Seven is a challenging album, one that doesn’t quite unravel itself on an immediate listen. Yet for all its complexity (of which I’m still trying to comprehend myself), it never comes off as ham-fisted or impossibly inaccessible. It’s an experiment in the gradual evolution of a musical experience. One where melody buckles under the density of harmonic sublimity and rhythm flows freely -- reshaping the aural landscape, while emitting a surreal sense of stillness all the while. Lopatin ultimately leaves us with a marvelous instance of artistic clarity. A moment where concept and execution synchronize perfectly and allow us the unique opportunity to experience sound as a purely emotive device.