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Monday, November 30, 2015

Live Review: James Ferraro & Oneohtrix Point Never Evoke Amoral Depths at the Independent

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2015 at 10:30 AM

click to enlarge Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never. - CREDIT: ANDREW STRASSER
  • Credit: Andrew Strasser
  • Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never.


Soft blue light illuminates the rim of James Ferraro’s cowboy hat, which shadows his face completely. The electronic musician, who’s opening for Oneohtrix Point Never, settles behind a table the width of the Independent’s stage—flanked by two rectangular screens depicting the stark cover of Skidrow, his latest album—and coolly conjures a patchwork of urban anxiety. Sirens blare, helicopters thrum, and reporters narrate consecutive days of unrest.

The montage sounds dated and smoggy — its evocative focus centering on Los Angeles of yore, the city immortalized in early ‘90s movies about feverish violence and civic disrepair. Much of Ferraro’s set — a defiantly slow-moving half-hour of foreboding samples and creaky grooves that occasionally coalesce into reticent R&B—feels filmic. There are errant guitar dispatches, the sort of bytes employed at moments of feigned violence on screen; cold, percussive scaffolding beneath acrid sizzles; and Ferraro’s villainous vocals, which hiss at the calculated cadence of a sinister narrator.

One song, which samples OJ Simpson’s defense attorney, is called “To Live and Die in LA.” It’s likely a reference to William Friedkin’s film of the same name, which casts the city as a moral vacuum where the division between art and crime erodes, each portrayed as crafty sleight-of-hand. Ferraro’s set begins like that — contemplative and detached like subtly stylized documentary — but the mood evolves, slowly pulling shades of debauched revelry out of the ether. Ferraro’s deconstructions acquire skeletal structure and then amass patches of sallow flesh, his vocals signaling sickly sleaze. Then there’s a shift to the depraved glamor of Mulholland Dr., finally consummated by a braying horn, before Ferraro waves and dashes off stage.

However forbidding and wary of melodic payoff Ferraro’s set is, arcing from gloom to doom in intimate resolution, it contrasts with the headliner’s performance quite a bit. Daniel Lopatin, who hovers behind a flight-case sprouting a thicket of wires, is Oneohtrix Point Never and he performs material from his newest album, the critical smash Garden of Delete. Lopatin has said it’s inspired by a 2014 arena tour opening for Nine Inch Nails, which spurred the 33-year-old to commune with the metal soundtrack of his adolescence.

The audience, docile if not vexed during Ferraro’s set, relishes Lopatin’s pulsing lights and attendant barrage. The screens feature robotics and footage from Alien and Lopatin’s “Sticky Drama” video, a schoolboy fantasy of flip-phones, swords, and internecine conflict in the hometown cul-de-sac. The music’s assaultive crescendos similarly evoke a sort of boyish pugilism, with jackhammer kick and wily riffs articulated as slabs of digital scree in the brawny style of death metal.

But what feels bold and urgent in the context of Garden of Delete’s myriad inclinations is a bit exhausting live. Mistaking maximalism for maximum impact and rollercoaster dynamics for craft, Lopatin’s explosive numbers lack the swagger that elevates compositions from oppressive to cathartic. Still, the more restrained portions—such as “Ezra,” which foregrounds clever harmonies between gossamer guitar patterns and spritely synth—sound skittish and engaging without any such garish overload. Those reveries and transitions hearken to the carefully doted upon textures and melodic invention of his earlier catalog. In other words, Lopatin’s set excels when indulging the mature work he apparently wishes to destroy.

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Sam Lefebvre

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