There seems to come a point in many an artist’s career where they simply cannot resist a good concept, as is undoubtedly the case with this latest album from the ever resourceful Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never.
The music collected here, easily the most scattershot, lurid and wayward in Lopatin’s catalogue so far, apparently explores the life of a teenage alien called Ezra. For these adventures, Lopatin has also imagined a fictional band called Kaoss Edge. No, really.
Fortunately, this turns out to be a better idea when committed to music than it might appear on paper, although any attempt pick out a narrative thread or sense of theatre might be more obfuscating than helpful. Garden Of Delete (yes, do make a note of its acronym) is perhaps best seen as Lopatin’s confrontational album – one where the music rampantly attacks, not so much transporting the listener as much as forcibly evicting them from their comfort zone.
Whereas much of Lopatin’s previous work, particularly the much admired Returnal, has been about crafting a coherent, immersive mood (albeit one that could be occasionally punctuated with shocks), this one is all about the extremes – highs and lows, adolescent mood swings. When Ezra is first introduced in the title track, it isn’t only with the fluttering, pretty theme that first emerges from the jittery static – it’s also in the sheer melodramatic, gaudy excess of the rush of ideas that follow.
Also, whilst the music is devoid of anything approaching a conventional hook, it has been painstakingly assembled with a curious melodic sense, drawing memorable ideas from remarkably disparate elements. The real inspiration behind this is not so much a wacky idea as much as it is Lopatin’s recent experience touring with Nine Inch Nails and his absorbing of metal and heavy rock radio tropes.
The shorter interludes that puncutate the album’s first half provide an oasis of contemplation, but much of the substance of the album is tetchy, paranoid, perhaps even traumatic. Sticky Drama, for example, begins life as an enticing trip but travels through some pretty dank and deliberately tasteless terrain. The approach, perhaps inevitably, leads to a sense of attention deficit. Lopatin never allows one idea to develop fully when he could be moving rapidly through five more.
Garden Of Delete is a hyper-stimulating work, perhaps even a little sonically pornographic or mind altering. It’s exhilarating and maddening in equal measure, but there is no doubt that it works best when Lopatin allows some sense of space and time to creep in to his work. The eight minutes of Mutant Standard are particularly thrilling. Like much of what is here, it densely packs in reams of information, but it does so in such a way that reveals a sense of development and expansion, especially in terms of rhythm and texture. The more patient and thoughtful Freaky Eyes, with its refracted organ motif, is even better, even as it jump cuts through vocal samples and strange synthesiser outbursts.
What is both fascinating and slightly irritating throughout Garden Of Delete is the way in which Lopatin constantly juxtaposes the beautiful and the abrasive. I Bite Through It is a clear example of this – at once compelling and grating in its sound worlds (richly imagined fantasia versus video game overload). Child Of Rage implies not only the anger in its title but also a sense of innocence and vulnerability.
When the dust settles, this may not be the album that captures all that is best about Lopatin’s work, but it may well be the one that sees him at last embraced by a wider audience. For all its challenges and provocations, Garden Of Delete may actually be more inclusive and open than it first appears. It might be that its moments of hope and beauty (Lift) linger longer in the mind than its very varied assaults.