Favorite Albums Of The Year(So Far) : Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘Good Time’ S/T

I came to Oneohtrix Point Never around 3 years ago. I think I’d avoided them because Pitchfork was telling me that I should love them. Of course I’m going to go against that urge to listen and absolutely NOT take advice from a bunch of pretentious music critics catering to the “what’s happening now” crowd. This mindset is dangerous, ignorant, and just plain wrong, especially when I suppose I’m somewhat of an amateur music critic myself. I mean, I could never write for a ‘zine of any kind. I write in a much more personal way than any respectable magazine could tolerate.

Anyways, I’m getting off point here(yes, there’s a point.)

So back to OPN…I finally jumped into Daniel Lopatin’s world in the fall of 2014. Since Boards of Canada were now on Warp Records and Lopatin was on Warp Records I thought I should at least give him a shot. I bought R Plus Seven and immediately felt my mind warp in a significantly unnatural way. Oneohtrix Point Never’s music, to my ears, felt like stepping inside someone’s skull and walking thru their thoughts and secrets. Songs were more like impressionistic paintings relating hopes, fears, daydreams, and nightmares in these aural tapestries. I hadn’t been that excited about a band since Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children cracked open my head and rewired my brain. This electronic music wasn’t purposed for the dancefloor. It was made to help you connect with the universe and engage with the world around you. R Plus Seven was catnip for this Midwestern curmudgeon introvert.

Of course I fell right into a OPN wormhole. I began grabbing as many records as I could. Betrayed In The Octagon, Drawn and Quartered, Russian Mind, Returnal, and Replica were all immediately snagged up. All were these same but different musical worlds. Earlier records were more fractured new age and psychedelic ambient than the later stuff, which delved into more modern and percussive sounds.

This same year was the year I discovered the wonderful world of panic attacks and anxiety. Discovering Oneohtrix Point Never this year seemed to be sort of a blessing in disguise as I found real solace in these albums. Amidst the noise, chaos, and manic sonic explosions I found a center where I could calm down. My wife had started a new job earlier in 2014 and she’d begun traveling, which left me at home making sure all three kids were getting up for school, getting homework done, my oldest was getting to band camp and work on time and all the while working 8 hours and hoping the children were doing what they were supposed to be doing at home when they were off for summer vacation.

Oneohtrix Point Never provided a sonic place I could escape to and realign my head.

Suffice it to say, I will always have a soft spot for Daniel Lopatin and OPN. 2015s Garden Of Delete was one of my favorite records that year and felt like a total reimagining of Lopatin as a composer and electronic musician. It was hard to imagine where he could even go from there. Turns out film scoring was where he was going, and it was a brilliant step.

I still have yet to see The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time, but if Lopatin’s score is any indication it’s an absolute adrenaline-fueled psychedelic trip through New York City. I haven’t seen any of The Safdie Brothers’ previous films, and if I’m being honest I had no idea who they were before I’d read Oneohtrix Point Never was scoring their movie. I figure if Daniel Lopatin is good with them then so am I.

The soundtrack. If I didn’t know it was a soundtrack to a film I would’ve easily believed this to be just a new OPN album. It comes together beautifully as a sonic journey. There’s a few moments of dialogue, but that doesn’t feel that out of place for OPN. It has moments of tension and noisy chaos that comes with the territory, but there’s also moments of musical beauty. Something like “The Acid Hits” proposes to the listener pyramid-like sounds stacked upon each other, while “Leaving The Park” harkens back to earlier OPN musical adventures. It flutters and bounces like music to some ancient video game.

Even with all the impressive sounds and musical moods on this album, my standout track is the final one. “The Pure And The Damned” stands completely on its own as this fractured and beautiful pop song. It’s a piano-driven song sung by Iggy Pop. “The pure always act for love/The damned always act from love” Pop sings as he talks about going to a place where “we can pet the crocodiles”. It’s a bizarre and tender track. I can only imagine after seeing the film that it will mean that much more. I honestly love this song.

I don’t know if this would be a great place for the uninitiated to start or not, but once you have been initiated you must find your way to this record. It’s essential OPN.

 

Oneohtrix Point Never : Good Time Soundtrack

If you told me that Daniel Lopatin was actually from another planet or dimension that wouldn’t surprise me a bit. The music he creates as Oneohtrix Point Never is otherworldly electronic in nature. It’s progressed from drone-y ambient on his debut Betrayed In The Octagon to the more deep space pop ambitions of 2015s Garden Of Delete. From building mystique and mood in his songs to the ghostly production that goes to help create the OPN worlds on each of his excellent albums, Lopatin is one of the most unique and original voices working in electronic music.

Getting to the point that OPN is at, one may wonder where to go from here. Daniel Lopatin went the film scoring route, first working with Brian Reitzell on Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and now on The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. Oneohtrix Point Never always seemed like a good way to go to score a film and this excellent LP proves it. It’s intense, propulsive, and one of the best albums of the year.

If you’re at all familiar with OPN, then you know sort of what to expect when hitting play. Lopatin’s film work doesn’t stray too far from his albums. Listening to albums like Replica and R Plus Seven it’s easy to imagine them scoring some imaginary film. Maybe some dystopian sci fi flick, or some hedonistic, neon-lit trek through a city night life. Good Time is sort of like the latter. It concentrates on two brothers, one of which has a learning disability and is caught by the cops after a robbery attempt. The other brother spends a night trying to locate the funds that would pay his brother’s bail. It seems to be one long panic attack, and Oneohtrix Point Never seems to have scored that attack beautifully.

There’s some great contrast throughout this LP. Something like “Hospital Escape/Access-A-Ride” is sleek and moves along like slow burning dread, while “Bail Bonds” starts with some of the film’s dialogue that begins to warp and melt into a propulsive synth. It dissolves into a distorted beat and what sounds like wavering guitar. “Entry To White Castle” has a Tangerine Dream/Michael Mann feel to it. There’s a real 80s vibe. “Romance Apocalypse” once again summons the great Tangerine Dream here, bringing to mind their work on Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. “The Acid Hits” has the bizarro musical insanity brewing in it that Lopatin cooked up on his own excellent album Returnal.

Daniel Lopatin does what you’d hope he would do, and that’s make an excellent Oneohtrix Point Never record. He does that easily. I haven’t seen Good Time yet, but I can only imagine how well this record and the film work together. For me, though, the absolute highlight is the final track “The Pure And The Damned”. It’s a collaboration with Iggy Pop and it’s pure and weird and beautiful. It’s probably the most upfront song Lopatin has ever written. Pop gives one of his most earnest and honest performances in years. It’s a piano-driven song with lyrics that evoke such huge emotions and this child-like honesty that I think encapsulates the relationship between the brothers in the film. It’s hard to describe. It’s just beautiful.

Daniel Lopatin continues to explore and reinvent his musical alter ego known as Oneohtrix Point Never. His Good Time Soundtrack is one of the most engaging listens of the year; it’s dark, intimate, bombastic, and it beats wildly with an analog heart.

8.8 out of 10

 

 

Afternoon Walks On Mars

I’m sure most folks when you mention the music of summer think of The Beach Boys, Bananarama, Ice Cube, BTO, or something produced by the likes of Mark Ronson or Paul Williams. Me? I think Oneohtrix Point Never. In particular, the album Drawn and Quartered. Nothing gets my summer sunburn going more than the hazy swaths of dreamy synth that come rolling into my ears when I listen to this album. I feel that this record is Daniel Lopatin at his most sublime.

So what does a heavy ambient synth record have to do with summer? Well since we’re talking about me the reasoning is ridiculous, but I’ll try to explain the best I can.

So a couple of summers ago I started walking and running after work out in my neighborhood and an adjoining neighborhood across the street. I found myself getting pretty bored in the gym and the outdoors seemed like a great place to work up a sweat and have a view while I was doing it. It was a really hot summer back in 2014 and during these scorchers I found myself either listening to Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, Bernard Szajner’s Visions Of Dune, or Rudiger Lorenz’ Invisible Voices. It was late July and early August and I was deep in the heavy synth albums. For some strange reason they seemed to mesh well with my hot afternoon walks. It was as if the sounds I heard seemed to come directly up from the pavement in waves of heat. The music lent itself well to these hour-long excursions in the sweltering Midwest afternoons.

Around this same time I’d started getting into Oneohtrix Point Never. I’d tried out their R Plus Seven album but hadn’t yet found my way in. I jumped back to their first album Betrayed In The Octagon and immediately fell for that album. Working my way through Daniel Lopatin’s catalog I came across a couple albums that were sort of off the radar. The Fall Of Time and Drawn And Quartered. These two albums seemed to live completely on their own, and had a meditative vibe. They both have the vibe of some long lost lo fi sci fi flick. But that summer it was Drawn And Quartered that truly won me over.

Drawn And Quartered fit right in with my afternoon walk soundtracks. As I made my way through the still developing Hawthorn neighborhood the many hilly and empty lots seemed like hillsides of some long lost and abandoned civilization. It was like afternooon walks on Mars. The sun beating down on me, sweat soaking my beat up old Nike hat I made my way through this strange and vast environment that folks call “the suburbs” as Daniel Lopatin’s musical kaleidoscope burrowed into my brain.

FullSizeRender“Lovegirls Precinct” opens the album and is quick and to the point. Short and rounded synth jabs percolate to the surface and make their way to your ears like a Casio version of Steve Reich. It’s a warm feeling that gives way to the excellent “Ships Without Meaning”. It’s nearly 10 minutes of ambient bliss. The sound is reminiscent of water rolling across a flattened beach. Wave after wave eloquently rolls onto the shore. Within the heat of an afternoon walk this one really calms the body down. The music opens ones head to let ideas out as well as letting them in. “Terminator Lake” does put me in mind of James Cameron’s 80s sci fi classic, albeit at a distance. It’s hypnotic and spacey, with just a hint of dread in those bass-y synth notes. “Transmat Memories” sounds like a android chase through some futuristic city. Flying in chrome pods through a Fritz Lang-like landscape in order to escape extermination in the great incinerators. It’s a jumpy and boppin’ kind of sound throughout. “A Pact Between Strangers” is a lulling piece of music; a feeling of longing and buried desires with the sound of synthetic wildlife breaking through the surface. “When I Get Back From New York” is a glorious and epic piece that runs close to 17 minutes. If you’re at all familiar with Sinoia Caves then you’ll understand the feel of this track. It’s a dulling pulse throughout as whizzes and wheezes come in and out of the mix. The heat of a summer day meshes with the noise here quite well. Sound and feel come together almost perfectly within this 17 minutes. “I Know It’s Taking Pictures From Another Plane(Inside Your Sun)” takes you completely by surprise as it’s a short acoustic number with Lopatin singing. A complete 180 degrees from the rest of the album.

I find Daniel Lopatin to be an extremely interesting guy. The music of Oneohtrix Point Never took a serious turn with 2010s Returnal, marking a noisier and loop-based sound. Since then he’s honed in on a completely unique musical trip which I’ve grown to love. Last year’s Garden Of Delete felt like another turning point that melded all aspects of Oneohtrix Point Never into something wholly different and modern sounding. Like alien dance music, or otherworldly EDM. Still, I do tend to gravitate towards the older, more ambient OPN. Betrayed In The Octagon, The Fall Of Time, Russian Mind, and of course Drawn And Quartered.

My afternoon walks in the Midwest heat wouldn’t be the same without them.

 

Betrayed In The Octagon

I was trying to remember the first time I heard Oneohtrix Point Never. You see, that’s what I do in my spare time, people. I sit aroundIMG_1415 and try and remember pointless drivel like “What year did ‘Paris, Texas’ come out?” and “What year did I drive 5 hours to Peoria, Illinois to see Rush and Primus?” and “When was the first time I ever heard Oneohtrix Point Never?” That’s the kind of life I lead here. I’m not out kicking ass and taking names, or expanding my mind with hallucinogenic drugs and writing the great American novel. No, I’m sitting at home complaining about how my leg is sore(sciatica, chaotica) and spinning weird, buzzing records as I get all up in arms over the proper beer glass to drink a hearty bourbon barrel-aged stout out of.

Jesus, I’m pathetic.

Despite all of that, I think the first time I ever heard Oneohtrix Point Never was when R Plus Seven came out in 2013 and I wondered what the big deal was. Drone-y stuff from a weird guy with a beard from Brooklyn. Yeah? So?? “They say it sounds like John Carpenter or something.” Oh really? No, it actually sounds like haunted new age music. It sounds like something you’d hear played in one of those earthy stores where they sell geodes, arrowheads, and seashell necklaces, along with books on how to keep Mother Earth clean and feed your family for a week with what you threw away a month ago. You know, stuff like that. Despite my initial underwhelming reaction I decided to check out the previous album Replica and pretty much had the same reaction. This is weird…where’s the haunting synths?….will someone please answer the goddamned phone???…oops, sorry. That last one was directed at my kids.

So fast forward to the fall of 2014. On a whim I thought I’d give Oneohtrix Point Never another shot. First album I hit up is the 2007 debut Betrayed In The Octagon. Firstly because the black and white album cover looked like a Twilight Zone collage mixed with a 60s magazine fashion ad. It struck something in me. Secondly, that title, Betrayed In The Octagon, reminded me of an old Chuck Norris movie, The Octagon, starring Norris and Lee Van Cleef from 1980. It holds great memories. Betamax dreams, folks. Anyways, I think I just wasn’t ready for Daniel Lopatin’s brand of atmospheric, drone-y music because this album struck something in me and struck hard. Opening track “Woe Is The Transgression I” opens like some strange, impressionistic piece inspired by a firestorm on Mars or something. Big, loping noise envelopes you as the song slowly tracks nearly 9 minutes of your life away. It’s truly heavy and heady stuff. There’s a “Woe Is The Transgression II” later on that sucks nearly 11 minutes of your bandwidth away and it’s even darker and more desolate. But it’s not all space madness on here. “Behind The Bank” feels like that double sunrise on Tatooine, or the moment those purple dust clouds clear and you see the new day’s light. Sounds sculpted from analog noisemakers always make for better sounds, and Lopatin surrounds Oneohtrix Point Never’s world with plenty of analog bliss here. But this isn’t about geeking out over gear, this guy really seems to take a serious mental trip on these songs. “Eyeballs” has the buzzing vibe of androids waking from a 100 year shutdown, while “Betrayed In The Octagon” is all oscillating fervor and wheezing square waves inching their way into the great abyss. “Parallel Minds” feels like a Boards of Canada interlude, while “Laser to Laser” almost sounds and reads like some sort of Philip K. Dick term for Replicant sex.

IMG_1413Betrayed In The Octagon will probably always remain my favorite Oneohtrix Point Never album as a whole. Soon after picking this up, I binged and bought up four or five of Lopatin’s records. All of them hit the spot with me, and they all felt like progressions to some next creative plateau. They all possess that new age-y thing, but a dark version of it. Big ideas sprawled out in electronic code. R Plus Seven has become one of my favorite albums as well, and not because of the John Carpenter talk. It actually sounds nothing like John Carpenter to me. It does, however, feel haunted on some level. Not scary, but alone and mournful. “Boring Angel” and “Chrome Country” are beautiful bookends for that record. Replica is this crazy experience of loops and bits of dreams all sewn together into this amazing album. He becomes the master of his craft on that album. There’s a couple smaller records I bought as well. Russian Mind and Drawn and Quartered feel like these smaller interludes that led up into some of Lopatin’s biggest artistic turns. They’re both quieter, restrained albums that are quite lovely on a rainy day.

Daniel Lopatin may indeed by a weird bearded guy from Brooklyn(listen to Garden Of Delete and you’ll understand why), but he’s also a musical genius in my book. He’s one of those rare artists that has a very distinct vision for what he creates. Maybe not rare, but so many artists today ramble and seem to be floating in space with no real direction. Lopatin and OPN each time out feel as if there’s a direction and story involved. You’re not just meandering around in the dark occasionally connecting to something in the abyss. It took Betrayed In The Octagon to get me to see what he’s trying to do and that he’s got a vision for the music. It’s an album I visit often and will probably continue to until I finally get that kicking ass and taking names thing down.

Editor’s Note: In response to the above questions from earlier: Paris,Texas came out in 1984, I saw Rush and Primus in Peoria, Illinois in 1994, and it was 2013 when I first listened to Oneohtrix Point Never. 

Oneohtrix Point Never : Garden of Delete

It’s not often that I can’t think of the words to describe an album. I can usually scrounge up enough vernacular to create a pretty good idea of what’s in between theoneohtrix grooves. But with Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, and his newest album Garden of Delete, it can be quite perplexing to paint a clear picture of what he’s doing this time around. Going back to the first OPN records, it was a lot of drone and space-y ambient textures. Betrayed In The Octagon, Russian Mind, and Zones Without People had the vibe of early Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, but with a darker view of the outside world. Replica made brilliant use of loops which made for a whole new vibe, while R Plus Seven felt haunted and alone. A soundtrack to a content dream that turns into a nightmare, only to head back into the light towards the end.

Oneohtrix Point Never toured with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden last year, which prompted Daniel Lopatin to change the scope of his music. He wanted to create something more modern; something more rock-influenced. The result is Garden of Delete, a mix of distorted vocals, dancier beats, and industrial muscle that is both the weirdest album by OPN, and one of the best.

So there was a story about how this album was a result of the influence of an extraterrestrial named Ezra that came into contact with Lopatin. The album does indeed have somewhat of a story regarding this tale, and there’s even a song called “Ezra”, but I’m not going to get into that. I’m just going to talk about the songs themselves. “Intro” is a distorted voice(presumably the alien in question) which leads into “Ezra”, a loop-filled track that feels like snippets of memories sewn together with Lopatin’s musical storytelling. The song picks up in the middle section like some manic techno freakout before the bottom drops out. “Sticky Drama” feels like OPNs attempt at a pop hit. It contains big bombastic swaths of synth you might hear on some big radio hit, as well as heavily effected vocals that could be some pop diva disguised as a robot. Pretty soon though the song descends into some hellish, industrial explosion, like Skinny Puppy devouring Aphex Twin in an attempt to digest its essence. There may be moments of modern pop extravagance here, but make no mistake this is an Oneohtrix Point Never record.

“SDFK” is a quiet interlude that reminds one of earlier OPN records, and it takes us into the album’s centerpiece “Mutant Standard”. An eight minute ride into deep space and some dark subconscious, the NIN influence is noticeable but it never feels like Lopatin is aping Mr. Reznor. Elements of ambient soundscapes and driving techno, the song is carried along by a percussive center that allows for strange aural delights to come in and out of the mix, racing from left to right. “Mutant Standard” feels very much alive and relevant. All of those artists attempting to do what Daniel Lopatin does need to sit down and listen to this song and go back to the drawing board. “Child of Rage” is another track that showcases the elegance Lopatin brings to electronic and synth music that may sometimes gets lost in the weird. It’s like Weather Report and Cluster were enveloped into an old IBM motherboard. “I Bite Through It” sounds like Nitzer Ebb and New Order through metal shavings and bad dreams, while Stanley Jordan plays over the mania. “Freaky Eyes”, “Lift”, and “No Good” take the album to it’s eventual end, with “No Good” being the reserved, quiet piece this album needs to end on.

Garden of Delete never wavers from the journey it starts at the beginning. It seems Daniel Lopatin isn’t resting on his laurels by sticking to the same formula. What this album proves is that he is as ever-changing and as vital as the music he creates as Oneohtrix Point Never. Not sure how he can top this album, but I’m happy to listen and see if he can.

8.8 out of 10

 

 

The Space Jack Hummer

I’m not entirely sure what drew me to Ben Zimmerman’s The Baltika Years. It may have been the album cover, which was all white with what looked like confetti all over it. Maybe it was the fact that one of my new favorite record labels, Software, was putting it out. Or maybe it was the story behind the album. The story being a relatively unknown musician named Ben Zimmerman recorded tons of cassette tapes worth of primitive electronic music between 1992 and 2002 on a now long defunct Tandy Deskmate computer sold by Radio Shack in the early days of personal computers.

I think it was a little bit of all of those, and the music of course.

The last couple of months I’ve been falling hard for the Software label out of Brooklyn. It’s run by Daniel Lopatin, who’s own band Oneohtrix Point Never has been a favorite of mine for some time now. Well when I heard back in April about this new record Software was putting out my interest was peaked. Ben Zimmerman’s The Baltika Years was an archive of sorts containing ten years worth of homegrown electronic experiments by one Ben Zimmerman. Who is Ben Zimmerman? Well by the sounds of some of these tracks on this double LP I’d say he’s what you’d call an outsider electronic artist. Not songs so much as grainy sketches of ones psyche, The Baltika Years feels like a cut-and-paste collection of emotions, ideas, and breakdowns created with, in today’s standards, archaic tools(even by the standards of the times when these songs were created I think the Tandy Deskmate was a primitive tool.) The sounds range from bizarre voices speaking loudly in repetition, to baroque piano ballads, to drum ‘n bass excursions, to what sounds like a little kid playing with a Casio keyboard. It all adds up to something quite fascinating.

On the surface that probably sounds less than inviting, and when I first listened to the album as a whole I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that said “Holy shit. I preordered this album. What did I just buy?!?!” It popped up on my streaming service before my double vinyl copy showed up so I listened to it one morning last week. I was sweating it. With the tracks starting and stopping in digital form it felt really truncated and clunky. It literally felt like someone standing in front of you screaming a million ideas and thoughts into your face nonstop. It was overwhelming. So when I put the LP on the turntable after it arrived today I was pleasantly surprised and relieved. Still the same songs as I heard over the interweb wavelengths, but on vinyl they all flow so well together. While still generally going here, there, and everwhere, the vinyl format adds a cohesion to the ADHD-like jumpiness.

Side A is one long form piece called “Phyllis”. A collection of truncated voices, baroque piano pieces, and electronic humming it feels like a collage of sound and emotion. It can be jarring, but also quite lovely. One can hear some of Danial Lopatin in these songs, almost a good 15 years before Lopatin released his first albums.

Side B is several short pieces, with “For Mimi Pt. 4” clocking in the longest at 2 minutes 37 seconds. More of the drum ‘n bass stuff comes into play here. I listen to these songs and I’m amazed thinking about the ideas going on in Zimmerman’s head and the minimal approach he took to release those ideas to the world. It’s like if someone like a Rembrandt or Van Gogh created their masterworks with nothing more than a piece of paper and a broken pencil because that’s all they had. Regardless of the tools, an artist needs  must create the vision in their head.

Side C is further delving into rhythms. “Redecorated Proto-Computations” sounds like Nitzer Ebb recorded on water-logged equipment. This is primitive, raw, and harsh noise. Industrial noise run through a ratchety machine wheezing it’s final breath. “Da Chopp” is rusty robo funk. It’s like a grainy negative to what Trent Reznor was trying to do.

Side D is Zimmerman’s masterwork, consisting of six tracks, “Pausebreak Pt.1” through “Pausebreak Pt. 6”. Funky beats, artificial bass grooves, and a dystopian vibe that someone like Philip K. Dick would be proud of. These really do sound like the primitive aural mainline to which Reznor can be traced from. The scope, with what Zimmerman was working with, is rather awe-inspiring. Really shows what you can do if you put your mind to it and have some half-ass equipment you can get your hands on.

This album to my ears is like hearing the ghosts of electronic music’s past. While tracks ranged from the short to the miniscule, the ideas here are bigger than anything you’ll hear today. While archaic, grainy, and arguably lo-fi in its sound, The Baltika Years feels very whole and poignant. It feels like a diary written in code. These songs may seem like puzzles to us, but in the heart, eyes, and ears of its creator they are keys that unlock moments in time. Minimalist, abstract, and even maze-like in its layers both literal and metaphoric, this album feels like one of the heaviest records I’ve heard. I’m all about the metaphorical heavy. The personal artistic statements. Sure, sometimes it’s great to just listen to an artist having fun. But some of the best records are the most personal to the artist. Pet Sounds, Blood On The Tracks, The Downward Spiral,…all of these albums are works of personal struggle, pain, joy, and journey. While maybe not as heavy as those records, The Baltika Years certainly feels like thoughts transcribed with the use of primitive electronic devices.

This album won’t be for everyone. I listened to it with my daughter in the living room and she just laughed nervously and said “This is weird.” My son on the other hand maniacally teased the dog by moving his head back and forth in rhythm with this caveman electronic. So I guess the jury is out whether or not we’ll be making this album the Hubner family jam album for road trips.

I love puzzles and dense works of art. The Baltika Years is both, and then some. I’ll leave you with this from the man himself, Ben Zimmerman:

Sometime in 1998, I transferred this music to several cassettes so I could listen to the recordings  in my car. Those cassettes represent the sources for The Baltika Years. When my last Tandy computer died in the early ’00s, I was SOL for ever opening the Tandy program again. I’ll never forget that when the RLX1000 died, I lost the best yet-unarchived piece made using The Fat Boys(again) and the soundtrack to The Emerald Forest, a terrible film made in the ’80s. After I threw out the computer, I was able to import the recorded waveforms as raw wave data on a PC computer(with next level beats.) I was also able to turn some song files into MIDI files with the help of a talented programmer on the web. I ripped all of those to floppy disks, but many files were corrupted. When I say that I never meant for these recordings to see the light of day, that is the truth. -Ben Zimmerman

IMG_0528IMG_0529IMG_0530IMG_0532IMG_0533

Do Androids Dream of Electric Beats?

My musical tastes have run the gamut over the course of my 41 years. From when I was a kid in short pants soaking up the day’s popular hits in the backseat of my mom and dad’s boat of an Oldsmobile, to forcing Yngwie Malmsteen’s Odyssey down anyone’s ear holes within feet of my bedroom as a greasy teenager, to discovering The Beatles’ Rubber Soul when I was 18 years old. For a few years I felt I was in a holding pattern of sorts, revisiting what I already knew and only digging artists that fit in that power pop mold I’d constructed. 1996 was a big year for me as that was the year I discovered Wilco’s Being There. The album presented as a long form piece of artistry. Sure, there’d been double LPs prior to Being There, but none of them affected me quite like Wilco’s did. Even The White Album, for all it’s grubby genius and raw individuality, didn’t have the impact on me that Being There did. Then, in 1997, I bought OK Computer and I felt I’d found a portal to another dimension. A dimension where science fiction, art, experimentation, and rock and roll seemed to collide beautifully. There was a feeling of sadness and loneliness that permeated that record. An alien entity. It was like artificial intelligence had suddenly formed the ability to have it’s mechanized heart broken.

Up to that point I’d only been a mild fan of Radiohead. Pablo Honey did nothing for me. “Creep” was whatever. I bought The Bends as my local record shop had the CD for cheap. I quite liked that record, especially “High And Dry”, “Just”, “Fake Plastic Trees”, and “Street Spirit(Fade Out)”. But there was nothing there hinting at what OK Computer was going to do to me. So Kid A comes out in 2000 and I was expecting to be blown away. Just completely have my mind blown and handed back to me a zip loc baggie. What really happened was that I didn’t quite get it. I found portions of it exciting, but I found myself waiting for the rock bits to show up. I wanted everything to sound like “Optimistic”, and I was disappointed. Not really in Radiohead, but in myself for not being able to progress along with them. It indeed felt alien, disjointed, and like art put to music -all those things I loved about their previous masterpiece- but I couldn’t crack that whole electronic music thing.

Electronic music.

A musical spectrum that I hadn’t really jaunted through up to that point. I’d dabbled over the years. My first foray into electronic music was probably in high school. I was subjected to Skinny Puppy, Ministry, and Nitzer Eb as my good pal Shane drove us home from school. I didn’t quite get it then. The mechanical crash and tat of programmed drums, the buzz saw guitars, and the angry vocals. Oh so angry. I didn’t understand the appeal. Where’s the vocal harmonies? Where’s the emoting? The guitar solos? Where’s the damn guitar solos? I did like some of that aggression that came out of industrial music, but I preferred my aggression man made with double kick drums, bar chords, and whammy bars. Speed metal was my aggression release, not drum machines, synths, and plastic guitars.

As I got older the electronic music thing was still a bit foreign and distant for me. I did buy a couple of electronic albums in the 90s. The first was The Crystal Method’s Vegas in 1998. I think it was because of the song “High Roller”. Looking back I feel kind of dirty for buying it. In retrospect it feels like the electronic version of Nu Metal. Then in 1999, on a business trip to Billings, Montana I bought The Chemical Brothers’ Surrender. Something about that album I connected with. It wasn’t brash and in-your-face like The Crystal Method’s “jock hopped up on Miller Light and speed at Mardi Gras” sound. “Music: Response”, “Orange Wedge”, and “Let Forever Be” were all top notch songs that felt just as organic as they did machine made. With this album, the world of electronic music seemed a much more welcoming one than it had previously.

The electronic music thing stayed rather dormant after that, with the Radiohead exceptions which were still sorta “out there” for my simplistic musical tastes. Then in 2008 that same friend that force fed me Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Eb, Ministry and the like had come over one evening for one of our beer drinking endurance tests and he dumped quite a bit of music onto my hard drive for me to explore when I had time. One of the bands he left for me were Boards Of Canada. He left me Music Has The Right To Children, Geodaddi, and The Campfire Headphase. All sat on my computer for about a year before I got around to really listening to them. Once I did, that was it. It was like a light went on inside my head. The distant loneliness, the nostalgia, and the longing were all right there for me to fall into and get lost in. I got from Boards Of Canada what I got from hearing OK Computer for the first time. Those Scottish brothers achieved a level of wistfulness and melancholia with synthesizers, computers, and detached, aged voices that Radiohead did with guitars, keys, drums, and Yorke’s ghostly vocals. It was at this point that I knew electronic music could be my friend. It could affect me as much as Being There, Rubber Soul, and yes, even Malmsteen’s Odyssey.

Nowadays, I find myself listening to as much electronic music as I do anything else. I think the biggest thing for me was discerning that fine line between EDM and everything else. I’ve never been, and still am not, much of a dance music fan. The propulsive beats, the repetition, and the trance-like state it puts you in has never been my thing. I always just assumed electronic music was just dance music disguised as something else. New Order, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, KLF,….these were what the face of electronic music looked like in my formative years. None of that appealed to me(though now I quite like Depeche Mode, New Order, and Pet Shop Boys.) But once I went through the Boards Of Canada filter I realized electronic music could be more than just rave soundtracks. The electronic music I find myself gravitating towards is of the emoting variety. Not so much the visceral stuff, as much as the intellectual variety. The electronic music I listen to would be more enhanced by a pint or a toke, as opposed to ketamine or MDMA.

Pretty much avoid any drugs that end in “amine” kids, okay?

So who do I listen to? Boards Of Canada, Flying Lotus, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sinoia Caves, Thug Entrancer, Huerco S, Sculpture, Terry Riley, Jonas Munk, Popol Vuh, Rudiger Lorenz, Kraftwerk, Thieves Like Us, Washed Out, Neon Indian, Cliff Martinez’ film scores, Wendy Carlos, Disasterpeace, Pauline Oliveros, JD Emmanuel,….just to name a few. There are a lot of great record labels putting out stellar indie electronic music, too. Kemado, Anthology Recordings, and Software(all under the Mexican Summer umbrella) have a huge variety of electronic music to choose from. Anthology Recordings reissued Rudiger Lorenz’ excellent 1982 album Invisible Voices last summer. It was an album I spun for months, and still spin it on my long walks in the afternoon. Software is a label I discovered fairly recently but have found some amazing records through them. Thug Entrancer’s Death After Life, Sculpture’s Membrane Pop, Huerco S’ Colonial Patterns, and Tropa Macaca’s Ectoplasma are just a few of the many I’ve been floored by. The Software label was started by Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, and all the artists on the roster have a similar approach to creating music. Some even border of psych electronic.

It’s heady music, man.

So it’s taking me a long time to come around, but I’ve finally found an electronic music niche that I feel like I’m a part of. It speaks to me, instead of alienating me. Where as before I looked at this genre as a cold and detached way of making music, I find it quite warm and organic now. It’s still just an artist creating art. The tools are just different. Those tubes, circuits, and patches were created with human instincts. Those square waves and oscillations are manipulated with human hands, and tuned(or de-tuned) using human ears. It’s all very,…human.

I’m not so much the paranoid android I once was. Maybe more just a stoic replicant these days.