Oneohtrix Point Never Good Time OST

[Warp; 2017]

Styles: cinematic synth, ominous arp
Others: the Safdie brothers, Stranger Things

“Regardless of what anyone says about a TV renaissance, film still has more dignity.”
– Daniel Lopatin

Robert Pattinson recently claimed that he had to refuse to masturbate a dog for the production of Josh and Ben Safdie’s film Good Time, and then claimed that he was “joking.” Even if he was, his account of one of the brothers imploring him to “just do it for real, man” jives with their reputation for fucked-up images with a hardened sense of authenticity, a sympathy for what’s real and maybe shouldn’t be. Maybe that’s what Lopatin means by “dignity”? In 2014, the brothers followed the dignified waltz of cinema to unexpected places with Heaven Knows What, telling a love story through the murky prism of addiction and with a blurred vision of the space between beauty and pain. Its soundtrack, centered around the work of pioneering electronic musician Isao Tomita, accents the film’s unsteady sense of time and place with the trembling dance of Tomita’s analog synthesizer.

Questions of dignity aside, the big and small screens of American cinema have at least one thing in common: an obsession with old synths, particularly with the arpeggiated ambience pioneered 30-plus years ago in the minimal and moody work of film composers like John Carpenter and Pino Donaggio. More than half a decade on from Cliff Martinez’s lauded Drive score and the Oscar-winning layer of sonic distortion laid beneath Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s The Social Network, and following popular work by Disasterpiece and Survive respectively on It Follows and Stranger Things, there is nearly an established discourse of 2010s “film synth.” For the most part, it’s about nostalgia, but as in all similar cases, it’s also about the present needs, tastes, and whims, as well as the wishes, fears, and anxieties for the future of filmmakers and of their audiences, as corny and nostalgic as we can be. What the Safdie brothers and Daniel Lopatin have in common is that, while just as obsessed with eerie vintage arps as the next person who follows A24 on Twitter, they maintain similar stylistic visions and little obsession with the past itself.

Lopatin, in a press statement, calls that stylistic proximity a “shared affection and reverence for bruised and battered stuff.” Any Oneohtrix Point Never fan who has seen his lurid collaborations with artist Jon Rafman (particularly the videos for “Sticky Drama” and “Still Life”) can tell you that similarity isn’t just surface deep, and that he really does speak the Safdies’ cinematic language of rot and rebellion. Like them, he is talented at surreptitiously removing popular forms from their past contexts and using them to comment on the present. Still, Good Time is the Safdie brothers’ vision, not his, and the music he composed for it sounds closer to the wandering tension of Heaven Knows What than to the detail-oriented, referential display of humor and pathos characteristic of any Oneohtrix Point Never album. With that in mind, it isn’t too far off to call it a synthesis of the brothers’ preferences with both the textures of the early works anthologized in Rifts and the nu-metal- and trance-inspired sound design of Garden of Delete.

The version of the soundtrack made for consumption outside of theaters includes samples of dialogue used both to bookend tracks and, in the case of “Entry to White Castle” and “Access-A-Ride,” for example, as instrumental features processed in a similar way to some of the vocal samples Lopatin uses in his primary work. The trouble of trying to evaluate the score as an independent work of art is that, without the film, it isn’t possible to tell whether these additions are unique to the commercially available soundtrack or documents of moments when Lopatin’s sound design is integrated with that of the film. I hazard to presume that the best way to experience this score is by going to the movies and having the audiovisual experience for which it was intended.

On the other hand, Good Time has some beautiful songs in it you probably won’t only want to hear in the theater. Beyond just providing some “bruised and battered” atmosphere for what I presume is another dirty, desperate, and demoralizing affair from the brothers Safdie, Lopatin gives us two emotional diptychs — “Hospital Escape/Access-A-Ride” and “Leaving the Park” — and some silky, menacing Skid Row-era Ferraro vibes on “Entry to White Castle.” Modulating synth arpeggios and digitally processed guitar solos, mimicking one another, play the core of the melody. Where the formula is abandoned, like in the closing acts of “The Acid Hits” and “Connie,” the results can be as attention-cravingly expressive as Lopatin’s better records. If it had been released as a standalone work, “Leaving the Park” would surely have been received as a kind of noble return to form for Oneohtrix Point Never, as a welcome “progression” from Garden of Delete.

All things considered, a film score is kind of an odd thing to ask of Daniel Lopatin, for whom electronic music is less a genre than a point of reference in a changing practice of unadulterated originality. His music seems destined to distract from any art it’s paired with or, worse, to become watered down by others’ creative limitations. With probably less success than the sublime Rafman videos, the score for Good Time nonetheless defies that logic. Until we see the film, we won’t know the images and stories with which Lopatin’s music is in dialogue, but in some ways, it speaks for itself. More or less adapting his own approach to sound with the sonic atmosphere and materials provided to him by the filmmakers, he managed to create a work that, guided by their vision, ties a satisfying knot between the two disparate ends of his catalog. Lacking the singularly textual and conceptual punch of his recent work, it’s both a practice in versatility and a sign that there’s still something of an enigma to Oneohtrix Point Never after all these years.

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