Digital/Divide is a monthly column devoted to any and all genres and subgenres in the great big beautiful world of electronic and dance music.
When we last heard from Oneohtrix Point Never, waistdeep into Summer Seventeen, the avant-garde maestro had just unleashed a beast of a record. A magisterial soundtrack to New York indie crime flick Good Time, it diverged enough from its 2015 predecessor Garden Of Delete, a Cronenberg-esque slab of body horror unlike anything that came before. The existential space between the two records felt longer than the calendar suggested, another reminder that Daniel Lopatin simply cannot be classified nor contained.
Roughly a year since overloading serotonin receptors with Good Time’s cerebral synthwork, 0PN returns with Age Of [Warp], an album that makes the term sui generis feel downright quaint. One key data point in the marketing rollout of this world building record came as a trio of live events dubbed MYRIAD, taking place at New York’s ever-changing and enormous Park Avenue Armory space. Attendees sat entertained, if bemused, by a series of videos depicting fractured avatars and irrevocably damaged structures, all plucked from a virtual reality junkyard and set to something resembling music. Lopatin and his band of misfits accompanied the visuals, attempting to bring life to compositions from the then-unreleased album.
As much a performance art installation as a concert, MYRIAD certainly dazzled, yet it created far more questions than it answered. What did the square-dancing cowgirls in the surgical masks signify? Can anyone explain the two rotating lumps hanging from the rafters? Was Prurient’s mic even on? Something tells me that no amount of poring over the gorgeous accompanying printed program left on my chair would offer enough insight.
That said, there’s a clear benefit to actually sitting down with Age Of, either with headphones or on a suitable stereo. Even with the Armory’s augmented soundsystem, the intimacy of cozying up to Lopatin’s latest batch of wonderment is its own reward. Despite the artistic craving to blare this from a surround sound behemoth, this genre-snuffing record shows its true self in its quieter nooks. Bon Iver fans might want to renounce that holoscenester upon hearing the digital folk-pop of “The Station” or the worldly R&B gloom of hypnotic single “Black Snow,” each led by Lopatin’s computer lovin’ voice. Traces of old Orb or maybe Orbital jams glide through the sprawl of “Toys 2,” while “Myriad.Industries” remixes something straight outta King Arthur’s court by way of Commodore 64. (Prurient is now perfectly clear on “Warning,” by the way.) Through these disparate influences, we begin to better understand the man behind the music.
A megamind in our midst, Lopatin melds the metaphysical with the arcane, the gunk of video games with the remnants of long-past cultures. A grand testament, Age Of doesn’t need to make a lick of sense to the layman in order to be appreciated, and its multitudinous mysteries all but guarantee gifts for those willing to lay with it and learn.
A duo made up of Johannesburg township natives, Batuk captures a perfect, at times almost Balearic energy on their Kasi Royalty full-length. Vocalist Manteiga and producer Spoek Mathambo prove a fine pair as they blend the influences of their city and beyond into a truly satisfying set of tunes. From the jazzy Afrobeat of “Babaloo” to the Soweto swagger of “Nika Mapha,” they touch on too many styles to keep track of, yet somehow keep things consistent. Kwaito devotees and deep garage heads alike will rush the DJ booth for “Deep Ocean Deep,” a banger worthy of inclusion in the same broad canon as CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” and Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman.” Admittedly, Manteiga lacks the snarling soulful bombast of the former, but she more than makes up for it with the unfazed cool of the latter. Meanwhile, Mathambo masterfully crafts danceable foundations for his partner to sing and rap over, thoughtfully constructed music beds like “The Recipe” with intricacies unspooling on repeat listens.
While certainly not the first sequentially, Arca nonetheless opened up the field for a certain brand of leftfield electronic music, where bass moves through undefined terrain. In keeping with the global ethos of this often seemingly alien sound, South African producer and current New York resident Dasychira keeps that equally confounding and compelling approach going here. At times, the complex aural tapestry of Haptics comes across like scrambled signals, as with the global beat mishmash and meditative bleeps of “Swing” or the cinematic cosmic swirls of “Aeon.” The dragon-toddler hybrid at the center of the cover art borders on crystal shop weirdness or the fantasy section at the back of the bookstore. Thankfully, he tempers his unearthly nerd tendencies with occasional help from humanity. Haleek Maul floats over “Scalaris,” while Malibu’s whispered monologue and sung mutters ground “Umbreon.” From a vocal perspective, Embaci does it best, carrying the post-post-post-junglism of “Talons.”
With its dependable dependency on the dembow riddim, reggaeton has proven itself as worthy as house and techno of its status as dominant dancefloor fare. The diasporic genre that extends across Latin America and digs deep into the U.S. singles charts now boasts so many permutations that the beat remains its sole signature. Arguably Chile’s leading underground practitioner of neo-perreo right now, Tomasa Del Real pulls rank on the competition with this mesmerizing vision of Latinx-futurism. Over its half-hour duration, the vocally driven Bellaca del Año cruises through some of the freshest reggaeton feels of the year. Aided by DJ Blass, aggressive lead single “Barre Con El Pelo” unleashes dancefloor freedom with deep nods to dancehall’s hedonistic history, while more accessible cuts like “Marcame” and “Toto” with Jamez Manuel dial it back without sacrificing the strength. Distinct M.I.A. vibes burst through “Báilame” and reflects in the jagged glass of “Perra Del Futuro.”
There’s something deceptively straightforward about the title track opening this solo full-length debut. Perhaps the combined tastes of U.K. garage and Detroit electro make for a complacent listen. Yet by the time the subsequent “Elastic” kicks in, with all its rubbery maneuvering around major lasers, one can’t help but sit up and pay attention. Having already established a name for himself via collaborative efforts with Russell Haswell and Mark Fell, Gábor Lázár reveals his affinity for the sorts of AFX-adjacent technoid sounds previously encountered back when Rephlex Records was still a thing. Snappy beats, rave stabs and bassy squiggles comprise this future funk affair, exemplified by euphoric rhythmic numbers “Repeater” and “Squeeze.” Falling somewhere between minimalism and maximalism, these tracks fill a relatively large amount of sonic space with a surprisingly sparse instrumental toolkit. Fans of Underground Resistance and its Drexciyan wing in particular should glom onto the distressed warehouse dance of “Overall” and “Propel.”
Born, raised and still living in New York City, Gary Suarez writes about music and culture for a variety of publications. Since 1999, his work has appeared in various outlets including Forbes, High Times, Rolling Stone, Vice and Vulture, among others. In 2020, he founded the independent hip-hop newsletter and podcast, Cabbages.