In lists of 2009‘s music trends, synthesizer revival has gone relatively unnoticed. Spurred by a re-discovery of German synth innovators such as Cluster and Klaus Schulze, and guided by Matmos’ underrated Supreme Balloon from 2008 (recorded directly from synthesizer with no microphones), 2009 has seen a flood of activity from artists like Emeralds, experimental electronica stalwart Keith Fullerton Whitman (whose prescient 2005 release, Multiples, was recorded on vintage synthesizers and electronic equipment at Harvard) and Oneohtrix Point Never.
Oneohtrix Point Never is the moniker of Brooklyn’s Daniel Lopatin, who also plays in Infinity Window. Lopatin composes and performs on vintage synthesizers, and Rifts is a two-CD compilation comprising the entirety of his first three albums -- Betrayed In The Octagon, Zones Without People, and Russian Mind -- as well as non-album tracks from cassette and CD-R releases. Rifts includes material from as far back as 2003 but is a cohesive collection of songs and an impressive document of dedication to an aesthetic ideal.
The Betrayed In The Octagon LP, which opens the set (Rifts is arranged in rough chronological order) is formative compared to the ensuing material but provides a solid introduction to OPN’s sound. “Computer World,” a bright, propulsive track, opens Zones Without People. From here on the material is superlative, including the 10-minute “Format and Journey North,” which begins as a gorgeous ambient piece and disintegrates into a blissful drone, and “Learning To Control Myself,” a symphony conjured from anachronistic sci-fi sound effects.
The second disc begins with the Russian Mind LP, Lopatin’s most meditative release yet. The title track is structured around a constantly shifting synth line and splits the difference between classic IDM and retro-synth worship, sounding like a classic Aphex Twin side on quaaludes. “Terminator Lake” is excerpted from a previously released cassette and comes closest to the video game soundtrack accusations sometimes leveled at artist like OPN, although it retains an inelegant charm.
“When I Get Back From New York” is Rifts' penultimate track, a 16-minute epic that displays all the qualities that make Lopatin’s music so effective -- his sense of restraint and pacing and the intimate force of personality he achieves, to name a few. Rifts is one of the major statements of the year, and although the two-disc, two-and-a-half-hour set is a bit daunting at first, it is certainly worth investing in.