The music on Replica is culled from TV ad compilations. But for electronic music built out of parts so seemingly empty, Daniel Lopatin’s latest song cycle is surprisingly alive. It sounds like it’s breathing. There’s a chilly but inviting personality to this, a vibe as haunting as it is mesmerizing. It takes darker turns than its predecessor, Returnal, and the rewards for that turn into the shadows are both immediate and long lasting.
Replica is haunting because, well, the album itself is haunted. Around all the waves of electronic sound and blips of noise are what Lopatin calls “ghost vocals,” things that sound like people, that may even be taken from the mouths of people, but rarely communicate the way we expect voices to. The clattering, airy “Up” finds a voice deep in the mix acting as percussion, speaking the titular word so quickly it sounds like a shapeless tick. This happens all over, snatches of words and phrases, cut up and sanded down to mesh with the sparse percussion and dense atmosphere of these movements.
The album starts out in the dark reaches of that atmosphere, with “Andro” churning in a mix of synths and samples of what could be breathy female vocals. “Power of Persuasion” is a wonkier, off-kilter twist on the same seething with brilliant results. But it’s when you get into the middle of the record, with the title track, when things get heavy and beautiful. The atmosphere clears for a clean, ringing piano, and the organic feel of the keys is both a jarring step on terra firma and welcome shift. There’s still sci-fi groanings wandering around, but suddenly you see the very physical, very human center of this troubling sonic world.
That organic sound contrasts with the twists and glitches of voice we hear elsewhere. “Nassau” pulls the piano into that fray, by cutting up chords into stilted pieces, under splashing, heaving layers that sound like a desperate run through a dark alley. That feeling, that something is behind you, that these noises are closing in, is what amps up the tension on these spacious compositions. The opening tracks, though shadowy, lure you into this world, but then the leash is snapped and reigned in, the pieces get cut into smaller and smaller bits, and a tense worry creeps into Replica and swells.
Lopatin’s greatest feat on the album is marrying the near-ambient psychedelics with broken-record cuts, so that the expanse of sound is populated — and morphed into something more dangerous — with gnarled spikes of sound. Sometimes the mix falls off. “Sleep Dealer” is so full of ticks it overwhelms any atmosphere he tries to build, and “Child Soldier” has a similar abrasive cut to it that feels far less subtle than the rest of the record. Replica is a fantastic collage of noise, something that is at turns melancholy and subtly joyful. It does two things that disparate types of electronic music do, and manages to bridge the gap between ambience and glitch so seemlessly they feel much closer than you might have first thought. And even as all this sound overwhelms you, even as it feels eerie and scraped out and at times pitch black, you’ll keep coming back. Because somewhere in that dark, in a mesh of sounds meant to sell us something, there’s something far more persuasive than any TV spot.