Album Reviews: Oneohtrix Point Never- R Plus Seven and Tim Hecker- Virgins
It seems like a bad idea to have the first track on your album include the word “boring.”
Daniel Loptain has done just that—R Plus Seven, the new LP under his Oneohtrix Point Never moniker, beings with the song “Boring Angel.” Towards the end, there’s a song called “Problem Areas”—an accurate descriptor for what much of this album is plagued by.
On the flip side of this, slightly like-minded experimentalist Tim Hecker’s Virgins is nothing short of a revelation. It’s oppressive, harsh, and terrifying.
The reason I’ve chosen to talk about both of these albums within the context of one review is not that they are so similar—they aren’t. Last year, Lopatin and Hecker collaborated on Instrumental Tourist, a mostly improvised, kind of uneven, though compelling album that blended Hecker’s love of straight up noise with Lopatin’s affinity towards vintage and dated sounding keyboards and other beeps and boops.
Loptain first showed up on my radar thanks in part to his 2011 concept album Replica—a collection of songs built entirely out of manipulated sound clips from a bootleg DVD set of 1980s television commercials. The title track was seriously like nothing I had ever heard before—incredibly claustrophobic yet shockingly reassuring and calming.
Also in 2011, Hecker was riding on the victory lap from his widely acclaimed Ravedeath, 1972.
Replica proved to be a departure for Lopatin’s solo output—his pre-Replica material is very much in line with R Plus Seven—a lot of silly noises, faux-rainforest chirps, organs that sound like they belong at a baseball game, or as depicted later on, in a church, and just a lot of unfocused dicking around.
In April of this year, I saw Lopatin open for Sigur Ros in St. Paul. Hidden behind the band’s scrim, he sauntered out on stage and stood in front of a waist-high cabinet, occasionally shifting his weight quickly between one foot to the other, occasionally drinking what presumably was a Summit Pale Ale, and occasionally fiddling with a knob, or a button, here or there.
Since the scrim blocked him from being seen completely, he could have been just standing on stage for 30 minutes faking it, while an iPod played someplace. The material of his set was comprised of sounds heard now on R Plus Seven—I certainly didn’t like it in April. I certainly don’t like it now.
There are some listenable moments on the record—at the half, a substantial portion of “Zebra” skitters along like a disjointed, minimalistic club banger, but yet because of the overall theme of “unfocused dicking around,” there are brief pauses that slow the vibe down to a crawl. Sure the different sounds are pretty to hear, or whatever, but the constant switch up and juxtaposition becomes a little intolerable when it’s in a song that started out with some promise.
But by all means, stick around to the end of “Zebra” for some sexy saxophone.
Hecker’s Virgins begins with an uneasy drone, and as awful sounds blast off over the top of it, that unease never lets up.
“Live Room” sounds like it was taken from the soundtrack to a horror movie, and even when the dread is not as obvious, Virgins is the kind of music you could use to score any situation where something bad could possibly happen.
An album like Virgins is exponentially more enjoyable than R Plus Seven simply based on the fact that it is not irritating as fuck to listen to. The downside to Hecker’s LP is that rarely is there a “good” time to put it on, because it is so downright Lynchian in how terrifying and unrelenting it is. It’s like when your favorite movie is a real downer—there’s never a time when you REALLY want to sit down and watch it and feel horrible about yourself.
Hecker shows a real handle on this whole “how to make an ambient/experimental/drone record” thing, as the pieces seamlessly weave in and out of one another—especial on “Stigmata I” and “Stigmata II,” as well as the earlier “Incense at Abu Ghraib” and “Amps, Drugs, Harmonium.” Those two also win the award for “Best Song Titles,” showing that even while Virgins is super serious, Hecker, somewhere, has a sense of humor.
Lopatin closes his album with a synthesized voice driven piece called “Chrome Country,” capping off a weird and disjointed album with the penultimate weird and disjointed track—parts of it are lush, sure, but the album’s whole aesthetic is similar to bumper cars: you go along one way, crash into something, and abruptly change course. Hecker, on the other hand, intensely closes with “Stab Variations, a lengthy drone full of sharp noise blasts that slowly fades into the distance.
For these two to have put out a collaborative joint isn’t that much of a stretch—I’m guessing most “major” experimental musicians tend to run in the same social circles, and that Instrumental Tourist just kind of happened. Now, back on that solo tip, Lopatin’s meditation on restlessness shows an astounding and possibly intentional lack of focus and concentration. On Virgins, Hecker plays to his strengths, pulls out all of the stops on crafting legit compositions out of the most dissonant sounds.