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 Saravá 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.
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.