More Ambient Tunes My Dad Won’t Get

Hello internet friends! Long time no see. I apologize for my absence from your lives these past few weeks, but I’m sure you all know how it goes. Life, am I right?

Anywho, this week’s salacious Saturday Selection is the recently released EP from Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven.

My first question for you has nothing at all to do with the music on R Plus Seven but rather pertains to the artist: how the hell do you pronounce this dude’s name? Is it 1-oh-trix or oh-nee-oh-trix? I thought it was the number at first but a friend introduced me to the idea of the second pronunciation and I find it much more to my liking.

But that is obviously neither here nor there. The main point of this post, as you may have guessed, is to talk about the music on this fascinating EP.

To my way of thinking, one of the basic tenets of ambient music, one of the most fundamental things that ties all the disparate corners of the genre together, is that if you aren’t paying close attention the music often seems like random bits of sound with no real grouping or connection (hence ambient). This is, I believe, where this style of music loses a lot of people (hi Dad!). While some ambient artists —  Boards of Canada jumps immediately to mind — still work quite well as background music, many ambient artists just don’t have this ability.

Oneohtrix Point Never definitely falls into this latter category. The first several times I listened through R Plus Seven it was playing on speakers while I was doing other stuff — reading, playing video games, cooking, etc. I still enjoyed the album when listening to it this way, but it definitely did not live up to what I was expecting from a member of Warp Records, the same label that Boards of Canada belongs to.

It’s not that the EP isn’t good when put on as background. Oneohtrix uses a lot of cool and unique effects that do a great job of catching the ear. But overall the music feels disjointed and scattered, and it’s really difficult to find the cohesive intricate layering of sounds that is what I look for in great ambient music.

HOWEVER! The above negativity towards R Plus Seven ONLY applies when listened to as background music. Several nights ago I finally sat down with my big-ass headphones and properly delved into Oneohtrix’s album, and let me just say: Ho. Ly. Crap.

As background music R Plus Seven is a lot of fragmented, albeit interesting, noise. As the main event it is a horse of a totally different color. Hell, listened to properly it’s more of a pegasus than a normal horse. There are so many different intricate and subtle layers in every one of the tracks on this EP, the best way I can think to describe it is that R Plus Seven is like a bucket full of water, where the water is actually music.

Listening to the album as background is like having someone huck the bucket at you from several feet away. Sure, you’re going to get wet, but the spray from the water will go everywhere, and it will probably end up splashing a lot more on your surroundings than on you. Listening to the album with the full attention it deserves, however, is like lifting the bucket up in your own two hands and slowly pouring it directly onto your head. Each and every sound has its own unique place, and the intricacy with which Oneohtrix weaves the different layers of music together is breathtaking.

R Plus Seven has a very circular, self-referential feel to it, in that many of the songs seem to be quoting or referencing others using similar rhythms and sound bites. Because of this I highly recommend listening to the album as a whole, BUT, if you want a preview, check out Zebra, arguably my favorite song on the EP.

The long and short of this post is that the way Oneohtrix structures his music makes it so that there is really no point in listening to R Plus Seven unless you’re going to do it properly. You don’t necessarily have to have supa-sweet headphones to do it justice (thought it certainly doesn’t hurt), but you do need to be in a place where you can really focus on the music to the exclusion of everything else.

Check out Oneohtrix Point Never’s website here, there’s some cool graphics and very weird videos that are worth a watch.

Have a great week everyone, see you next time!

– Zev

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