clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Review: Oneohtrix Point Never's Garden of Delete is a digital dumpster dive

Daniel Lopatin's new album is dense, aggressive, and disorienting

Warp

The internet is full of garbage. Annoying ads, invasive trackers, gross porn, and racist social media dispatches all float together in the same stew, and it grows faster than anyone could possibly comprehend. Even an average day spent in your web browser of choice yields dozens of run-ins with things and people you might find weird, objectionable, or completely alien. Daniel Lopatin’s newest album as Oneohtrix Point Never is called Garden of Delete, and spending time with it feels a little like watching someone overturn a dumpster only to make gripping collages out of discarded bits of food and pieces of scrap metal. The album’s piles of digital detritus can be overwhelming, but the chaos yields moments of strange beauty and surprising power.

Lopatin’s been a prominent figure at electronic music’s vanguard for more than a half-decade at this point. He’s a playful, bold, and restless force, and his work explores the grey area between the real and the synthetic on a handful of different fronts. His early work consciously suggested space’s vastness with yawning drones and endlessly oscillating synth passages that’d end up decaying and warping, and 2013’s R Plus Seven tiptoed the boundary between natural imagery and chintzy representations of "exotic" locales. He reached the peak of his power with 2011’s Replica, a striking, hypnotic collection of meditations on memory and reality. With that album, Lopatin managed to pull off something extraordinary: he wrung genuine emotion out of work that was explicitly focused on artifice and distortion.

Garden of Delete isn’t as compelling in that regard, but its conceptual heft and sheer bulk provide a different sort of thrill. Lopatin cobbled together a robust fictional mythology for the album, and he opened it up in August by posting a strange PDF on his website. He described meeting a disgusting teen named Ezra, a "humanoid alien stuck in an infinite loop of molting puberty caused by enigmatic stuff beyond comprehension," while trying to piece together what would become Garden of Delete. Ezra and Lopatin become friends and start working together on music, but Ezra mysteriously vanishes. He leaves behind a selection of MIDI files filled with "the most heartwrenching, futuristic kords ever" and leaves Lopatin with a version of his infection in cryptic, hilarious fashion. "Something weird is happening to my body," writes Lopatin. "I am going through puberty but also rapidly aging forwards and backwards at the same time. It’s pretty stressful."

When everything's accessible, how you fit the pieces together starts to matter

Ezra left behind a Blogspot page full of posts, many of them backdated into the mid-to-late ‘90s. Most of them frame his particularly alien brand of teenage alienation through his fandom for a fictional band, "hypergrunge" superstars Kaoss Edge. There’s an interview with Lopatin in which he details the making of Garden of Delete, and it’s stuffed with jokes, references to real musicians and events, and tense banter between Lopatin and his imaginary interviewer. This digital breadcrumb trail helps to make the album Lopatin’s most satisfying dive into the nebulous unreal yet, and the internet proves a worthy frame for his exploration. Anything and everything you can imagine — impassioned screeds from disgusting teenage aliens, considered references to the work of philosophers like Julia Kristeva, made-up genres and obscure equipment — is just a few clicks away. When everything’s accessible, how you fit the pieces together starts to matter.

The music on Garden of Delete reflects that last statement. Lopatin’s work has always thrived on unpredictability, but it’s never been this dense or chaotic. Corroded slabs of distorted guitar and processed vocal scraps drop from cliffs and slam into passages that are simple, jazzy, and spare; sections that amount to musical gibberish suddenly assemble themselves and morph into technically impressive, laser-precise synth castles. You’ll find yourself starting to pick out pieces that sound like they’ve been haphazardly yanked from other songs and eras. "Sticky Drama" takes the hammering pace of drum and bass and weaponizes it, like a jackhammer gone rogue; "Ezra" flits between guitar melodies that sound like The Police; PC Music’s cartoonish, disembodied voices; and a rich, warm bass line. It’s enough to give you mental whiplash, but the disorientation is exciting rather than painful.

The album’s slower moments tend toward the self-reflective. All of Lopatin’s albums have pushed forward in some way, but Garden of Delete’s wide sonic net has captured some remnants of his old work as well. Interlude "ECCOJAMC1" references 2010 tape Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1, one of Garden of Delete’s ancestors in strategy if not in sound; aquatic highlight "Child of Rage" has R Plus Seven’s soft curves and simple melodies; there’s a section in the middle of "Freaky Eyes" that’s carved right from Replica and embedded like a piece of nougat.

Garden of Delete revels in the unsavory and the intense, and that does compromise its accessibility to a degree. Replica and R Plus Seven were exciting in part because they presented casual challenges: they were deep, intellectually stimulating albums that also felt appropriate for overcast Sunday mornings and wet fall days. Comparatively speaking, Garden of Delete sounds like something you’d reserve for scaring children on your front steps come Halloween. It’s hard to imagine turning to a monolith like "Mutant Standard" for your daily trot to Starbucks unless you’re frequenting a coffee shop in another dimension. The album wears its intimidation well. When you spend time away from the internet, diving back in can feel like choosing to submerse yourself in raw sewage. Garden of Delete asserts there’s something worthwhile about surrendering to the sludge.