Each day I edge closer to seeming like the world’s most pretentious wannabe English major and there’s feck all I can do to stop it – or at least it seemed that way when I overslept on Saturday and missed out on a Trotskyist Zoom reading group session as a result. Actually leaving the house and interacting with real people who don’t know (or particularly care) about whatever three topics I’m obsessed with arguably grounds me a fair bit – I have to translate my Paul Durcan jokes into a language that normally-adjusted people can pick up on and that prevents me from reverting into utter pretension, presumably saving my soul in the process. As all people who write about music on a regular basis should, I often feel a lot of shame and I think that this is why my obsessions eventually diffuse – my friends can only pretend to understand who Eoghan Harris is for a certain amount of time and that means that I’ll eventually give up on mentioning him, even if I do so solely out of a misplaced (yet well-deserved) sense of embarrassment. Like all the sporting events that I pretend to follow on Twitter, lockdown has put a temporary halt on this external shame mechanism – I’ve been free to stew around in my minute fascinations non-stop for what feels like ages and it turns out that perhaps the shame served some form of purpose, even if said purpose was just ensuring that the one person made to read this blog post doesn’t actually realize how much of an arse I am. My life feels like it’s entering some minor form of stasis – my sole aim now seems to just be annoying the arrangements of pixels on my phone screen that serve as my sole connection with the outside world, something I’m excelling at solely through my inability to start writing about actual music.
The first time that I listened to ‘It Should Be Us’ by Andy Stott I didn’t notice that my headphones were partially unplugged and I thought that Stott was a musical genius for making an EP that sounded like a heavily-compressed 144p YouTube video. Stott’s work is interesting due to how abstract it has gotten over time – his early cold and slightly boring techno tracks have gradually melted into these overblown, melancholic dub soundscapes and this progression made the notion of him putting out an album recorded with an unregistered copy of Hypercam 2 slightly more palatable. The Manchester-based producer’s work is at its best when it feels like a high-contrast picture of a cadaver in the middle of a desert – Stott’s work feels like the experience of driving in the middle of nowhere at five in the morning during a heatwave and being unsettled at how bright everything seems and that’s something I find really interesting. ‘It Should Be Us’ was intended as an in-between project, a “double EP of slow and raw productions for the club […] recorded fast and loose over the summer” to bide us over until Stott’s next major release. “There’ll be a new Andy Stott album in 2020, but in the meantime this one’s for dancing” as the record’s Boomkat page put it, severely underplaying the nine tracks that made up the digital release. This record was intended as a follow-up to Stott’s 2011 EPs ‘Passed Me By’ and ‘We Stay Together’, forgoing Alison Skidmore’s calming vocals and Stott’s ambient pieces in order to jump head-first into a world of unrelenting, menacing beats that arguably defined his sound. I’ve seen people describe this record as sounding like urban decay, the experience of taking the wrong drug, or the concept of mortal exhaustion – that in and of itself should motivate you to check it out.
There’s a moment around a minute and a half into the opening track ‘Dismantle’ that I constantly looped in my head last November. The tortured (and heavily syncopated) seeming kick drums suddenly cut and this tormented seeming melody plays from what sounds like a dying synthesizer trying to emulate a brass instrument (but if the person who programmed said synth never actually heard a brass instrument in their life), layered under sludgy reverb and heavy compression. A bunch of edgy vocal samples seemingly ripped off Burial’s laptop begin to loop and stutter – “you know-know, don’t you?”, “you know-know, don’t you?”. The kick drum returns and the track gradually morphs into what I’d imagine would play in an imaginary gay bar used as the set for an oddly homophobic French film – bodies fading in and out, broken strobe lights vying for their last breath, seedy side-characters blocked out by repetitive snare drum patterns. I can’t actually imagine anyone dancing to this track at full-speed, this is a song that lives solely inside drugged-out memories and grotesque moments of genuine desire and it’s hard to see it outside of that context. There was a really good review of another Stott record that I found on RateYourMusic ages ago (but could not find in time for this deadline) that compared his sound to “hearing techno blaring from a party in the apartment above at 4AM but getting something more out of it” – ‘It Should Be Us’ feels like imagining that they’re you’re pals. My personal highlight off this record is ‘Versi’, an off-kilter banger that perfectly encapsulates why I find Andy Stott so cool. Stott’s beats feel oddly human – his usage of copious amounts of syncopation makes it seem as if his tracks are slowly drawing uneven breath, gasping away in some urban wasteland. I have zero clue how the fuck he expected anyone to dance to this song (or even just this EP as a whole) but I hold a lot of respect for it anyway – this record feels human, even if that’s just because all his drum machines seem broken.
The work of Oneohtrix Point Never has always held a dear place in my heart, even if writing about it lead to me making a typo in my last zine. Daniel Lopatin’s creative output has been scarily diverse yet consistent, ranging from the (presumably) Tullamore-inspired ‘Eccojams’, to the 90s ad break hellscape of ‘Replica’, to the chronically slept on warped pop of ‘Age Of’ – his work branches off in god knows how many directions yet still seems utterly distinctive, or at least it felt that way when he was the only electronic musician I actually paid any attention to. Before I went through the five stages of grief over the fact that instrumental records are actually good I was obsessed with Oneohtrix Point Never – records like ‘R Plus Seven’ and ‘Replica’ unintentionally ended up soundtracking walks through a deserted, off-season Lahinch and the early release of the soundtrack for ‘Good Time’ lead to me spending months trawling 1337x for the inevitable WEBRip of a film that quickly became one of my favourite pieces of media (and lead to me being an insufferable arsehole for at least a month). Lopatin’s work felt oddly unique – he openly wore his influences in a combination that completely eluded me and would presumably lead to some hack Pitchfork contributor to unironically use the term “auteur”. Lopatin’s work arguably represented the two or three interesting aspects of vaporwave that gradually got reduced into the same two clearly-fake VHS filters (even if Lopatin rightly avoided being associated with the genre) – disposable aspects of a vague (and largely fictional) past were stretched, looped, and stuttered between hauntological instrumentation, vague references to French psychoanalysis, and occasional mentions of capitalism being slightly bad. If I was trying really hard to impress some frequently divorced Goldsmiths lecturer as they awkwardly tried to hit on me I would compare Oneohtrix Point Never’s discography to a plant growing around a discarded Eircom CD-ROM – the disposable (seemingly better) past turns on us, decomposing into a menacing haze. Also, his synth lines are objectively cool, that probably helps a bit.
‘Garden of Delete’ is arguably the bastard child of the OPN discography – I sometimes feel like I’m the only person who obsessed over this album and often wonder as to why this is the case. ‘Garden Of Delete’ was heavily inspired by Lopatin’s experience of supporting Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden on their 2014 joint amphitheater tour – OPN would play these abrasive sets of so-called “cyberdrone” to piss off arena rock crowds, reconnecting him to the tacky grunge music of his youth in the process. This album’s sound is heavily influenced by the trashy and edgy – back when I still updated my RateYourMusic page I claimed that this record sounded like if a PS2 read Freud and I still feel like a brain genius for coming up with that comparison. Just in the same way that ‘Replica’ or ‘R Plus Seven’ took the sounds endemic to the so-called “end of history” and spat them back out in a pretentious blog post-friendly form, ‘Garden of Delete’ perfectly captures the adolescent rage of nu-metal – a vague, nihilistic anger later commodified to sell microwavable burgers and joining the United States Military. According to a feature in The Skinny by Jon Davies, Lopatin resurfaced online with a public press release that was “half an update for the fans and half an admission into a weird semi-fictional zone Lopatin had found himself in” – he described his body as “both disintegrating and regressing into adolescence”, a concept fundamental to understanding ‘Garden of Delete’. With this record Lopatin wanted to capture “things that are kind of disgusting but still seductive” – a now dormant e-drama blog that forgoed due diligence in exchange for clout from scene kids, the subtle body horror of experiencing something for the first time, or the five minutes where you thought that Korn was kinda fun. It’s (unsurprisingly) quite a Freudian affair, which probably explains all the gratuitous references to bodily fluids.
I’m going to end this post with a ramble about ‘Animals’, one of my favourite cuts off this album. This is one of the more minimal tracks on the record, solely consisting of a dying Chipspeech patch and subdued instrumentation. Lopatin has aptly described this track as a “heroin jam”, claiming in a piece he published for Vice that this piece was inspired by the notion of artificial intelligence overtaking (and then promptly ignoring) us. “I’d been reading [Oxford professor and philosopher] Nick Bostrom’s stuff about artificial intelligence, and in the course of reading that, someone—Nick or some other thinker—suggested a scenario where far more evolved beings than we are would just ignore us, the way we ignore animals and insects. We wouldn’t pose a big enough risk to them to deserve eradication. That thought scared me so much—imagining a cyborg ignoring you. He’s not even going to take time to kill you. I liked that thought, and I used a metaphor of a couple sitting on a bench in front of the zoo and laughing, realizing that could easily be a [situation]] that humans find themselves in.”. ‘Animals’ feels like dread personified – the nihilistic dread that channeled nu-metal seems to surface in a less shouty (and arguably more pretentious) form, bumming me out in the process. In this same interview, Lopatin claimed that the song was set in two periods – a contemporary zoo and a medieval court with a king and a dying queen. “The king character realizes that although he’s completely devastated, he needs to move forward with his obligations as king”. This song sounds like the experience of recognizing that you’re deep in a rut but recognizing you need to claw some way out, even if you have zero ideas as to what that looks like. It’s a song that soundtracked the vague, impending dread that defined my pre-lockdown situation – a dread that was put on hold temporarily so I could shit out bad blog posts and a dread that now seems humorous to make fun of during its temporary stasis. I’ll probably relate to ‘Animals’ a lot more as we return to some semblance of “normal life” (read: choosing to be shut-off as opposed to being forced to), but until then I guess we’re stuck with these pretentious music posts. Tragic!