Returnal’s opening track “Nil Admirari” is, unconventionally for Oneohtrix Point Never, full of distorted noise, glitchy metallic growls, dulled clatterings and hiss. The more expected echoing repetitions are here percussive and when becoming toned and almost like a melody are forced to compete for space to cut through the mass of scrawl and noise. The track’s closing howl vocal sound is almost like a wailing call to prayer — and signals a seamless shift into the more natural soundscape of “Describing Bodies”, with twinkling and shimmering synth drones — as forms the base of Daniel Lopatin’s sound in his OPN work. “Stress Waves” continues it but with echoing, pulsing synth squelch ‘melodies’ rippling out like drops into a pool. All ‘lead’ lines take this delaying reverberating pulse form — broken lines but with soft-edges — as with both the prominent repeating synth riffs and also the vocals which appear on the title track. Lopatin’s vocals are effected, blurred, layered and octaved beyond the point of ability to recognise any words and instead function as extra texture and melody (taking this even further, “Nil Admirari”’s blunted howl can’t definitely be identified as vocal and could possibly just be synth).
sustains and washes of vintage synth and organ
The sustains and washes of vintage synth and organ that form the anchor, as well as the arpeggiating patterns and polyphonies that float above, are given ample time to revolve and evolve, developing a calming mood on the lengthy “Pelham Island Road” and “Where Does Time Go” on the second half of the record. Afterwards though the new age symphonic soundscape initiated with spiritual organ “Orouroborus” is anomalously short for a track with that title, and more like an interlude (for it’s length, not it’s quality) — though by nature it could be looped and continue ad infinitum.
Closing the album “Preyouandi” offers a glitchy wig-out version of minimalist techno, the normal ambience again interspersed with noise and sounds like effected manic windchimes or like critters in the machine clinking and gurgling around. The noise bookends of this and “Nil Admirari” displays a development of the sound honed on previous records, although the defining overall mood continues and the territory is again explored in an engaging and sometimes beautiful way. Altogether Returnal is a solid offering from a man right at the fore of the fascinating modern ambient movement.