This is not the logical progressive step for a scene-dominating figure like Daniel Lopatin. Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never moniker has been the de facto face of this summer’s drone revival, his deep field layering techniques conjuring humorless images of the vast cosmos and indifferent, calculating technology. It seemed logical to imagine he was a pretty sober, reclusive guy — that is, until songs from his collaborative Games project started trickling out. Apparently born out of a childhood friendship between Lopatin and Tigercity mastermind Joel Ford, Games elaborates on the cheesiest sci-fi elements of Oneohtrix, turning them into a landslide of nostalgia-fueled glitz. The result, That We Can Play, is easily the dorkiest album of the year.
In fact, Lopatin referred to Games as “the ultimate manifestation of our geekery,” and it certainly sounds that way. That We Can Play has nary a shred of the marathon loops Lopatin is known for. The songs veer from blushed disco to starry, retro-futuristic electro-ballads — all, of course, originating from an affinity for the ‘80s, the decade where their childhood, space-age dreams were born in the first place. Opener “Strawberry Skies” is centered on a frosted, Eurythmics-like sing-song from Laurel Halo, wrapping her glossy voice over a frayed, primal-PC backbeat. “Midi Drift” makes good on its namesake and delivers a heavily digitized imagining of electro-pop’s earliest roots. “Shadows in Bloom” is the only song that willingly escapes the smirking irony of the rest of the record, uniting celestial synthesizers, pounding rave-bass, and a clipped vocal sample — none of which sound consumed in the vintage tech-haze that define the other track’s aesthetics.
That We Can Play is rounded out by two remixes, the first of which, CFCF’s “It Was Never Meant To Be This Way,” fits perfectly with the song flow of the rest of the album. The other, Gatekeeper’s reshuffling of “Strawberry Skies,” sounds delectably Lopatin-like: slowing down the lighthearted spaceship bleeps into final boss music, distorting Halo’s vocals from go-go dancer to star-witch, capturing the sense of monolithic scale Oneohtrix fans might miss in the other Games songs.
Games’ moment of clarity comes with centerpiece “Planet Party,” which consolidates the hammy vocals, rave-euphoria, and chintzy retroism into one glorious three-minute package. But as a whole, the band never quite transcends its own goofiness. It is, after all, two old friends screwing around with analog electronics and shared reminiscence. That might work for a few standout singles, but even stretched out to a modest EP the fundamentals begin to lose steam. That We Can Play is a perfect diversion, but it doesn’t leave me salivating for more.