Ricardo Donoso
Photo: Courtesy Of Denovali Records

Ricardo Donoso’s ‘Progress Trap’ Finds Disquiet Through Stealth

Ricardo Donoso’s Progress Trap is cold. It sends chills, causes dark, abstract thoughts, and seems perpetually set in a futuristic noir.

Progress Trap
Ricardo Donoso
Denovali
5 November 2021

Ricardo Donoso‘s work is cold. It sends chills, causes dark, abstract thoughts, and seems perpetually set in a futuristic noir. Listen to his music and see shadows and blurred figures just out of reach. On earlier albums, such as 2015’s Sarav√° Exu, you hear his experiences playing drums in death metal bands translated to his synths and sequencers. It’s precision, with little to no room for improvisation, and it can jump from an unnerving calm to frantic urgency in a single track.

Progress Trap uses some of the above elements but sounds like the music to soundtrack an uneasy truce. Compare it to some of the tracks from recent releases and note some radical changes in approach. There’s nothing on the new album to compare with the jitters and claustrophobia of the sonic blast of cold water that is “Rendering the Ineffable” from 2018’s Calibrate. Nor is there anything as playfully schizophrenic as “A Consensual Hallucination”, from 2020’s Content. Instead, the paranoia running through Progress Trap is leashed, never quite reaching peak release, and the album is all the more unsettling for this.

“They Saw It Coming” enters out of a haze with a hypnotizing repeated keyboard meditation before drumbeats hit, punctuated by rhythmic blips and a gauzy synth drone. It’s almost stalker music. The disquieting dream state “Hostile Environments” is nearly tranquil as a barely audible drone is joined by bell sounds and distant synth whispers. You’re still lost at night in dangerous territory, but you might make it home unscathed after all.

Progress Trap operates by stealth; the arpeggios, lack of a danceable pulse, reliance on textures and colors as if the sounds are being painted are all still here. But the jolts, the explosions, and the overt violence of some of his other work are absent. It shares a bleakness with The Bug and Dis Fig’s In Blue and the disconcerting near-silence of KMRU, but it’s more fitful than the latter and lacking in the dystopian bedroom vibe of the former.

The more Donoso suggests bliss, the more likely he will drop in a hyper-speed sequenced waver, as he does on “A Two-Side Story”. If there’s anything even remotely dance-pulse related on Progress Trap, it’s “Reconcilable Differences”. But if this ever makes it to the club floor, it’ll be after the sun has come up when the space is nearly empty save for a few stragglers propping each other up.

In a 2018 interview, Donoso claimed, “Technology is the greatest enabler I have; I am constantly in a state of trying to make what is a very clinical, cold, and isolated process for me sound alive. Trying to either control some chaos or attempting to create it from the mundane.” That process goes some distance in describing Progress Trap, especially the idea of controlling chaos.

RATING 7 / 10
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