It’s been nearly six years since Cosmin Nicolae released his last record under the Cosmin TRG moniker, Gordian, a simultaneously serene and unnerving journey into the domain of ambient techno. At the time Gordian understandably felt like a sidestep; a surprisingly satisfying turn away from the fidgety floor-fillers he’d built his name on, but compared to the divergence of his new record, Hope This Finds You Well, it’s basically a direct fit with his wider discography. Where Gordian still made use of choppy breaks and woozy synthlines, Hope This Finds You Well is defined by stasis. Where the 4x4 beats on Gordian felt like the rhythmic pattern of breath, Hope This Finds You Well is one long exhale.
That’s not to say Hope This Finds You Well is pure catharsis, but that its mood is defined by patient atmospheric swells. As a closer point of comparison, last year’s Semnal (released under his birth name on Opal Tapes) also felt subversive in its minimalism, composed as it was of subterranean clicks and sinewy chimes, but the throughline of this latest LP gives coherence and genuine insight to the piece as a whole. Constructed around a preoccupation with present-day corporate culture, Cosmin distills the world around him down to simple tones, finding space where the average nine-to-fiver typically only finds muddy confusion.
The central thesis of Hope This Finds You Well is that ambient music has somehow been sullied in the era of streaming services and HR-approved playlists, contorted into a shape defined by workplace efficiency rather than artistic purpose. The record opens with ‘Front Desk Optimization Ritual’ as morning breaks on another day in the world of high-rise offices. A sheening tone runs through its entirety, the ever-soaring pitch feeling euphoric even as it fuzzes at the edges, but the song’s title adds an air of the uncanny. This is music posing as music designed to evoke placid complicity. It’s tranquil bliss manufactured to deter unprofitable distractions.
As the album progress, Cosmin filters a series of parallel concepts through granular patterns, reaching moments of genuine rapture that simultaneously serve as cutting satire. For anyone who’s worked in a new media start-up that prides itself on its open plan desks and office-wide “encouraged” social events, song titles like ‘Romantic Slackbot Presentation’ and ‘Holistic Watercooler Prototype’ function as lampoons in their own right, but the meditative-quality of the music adds another dimension to the pastiche. Each song drifts by with limited percussion, unmoored in a manner that feels custom-built to be looped in all-glass elevators and bean bag-adorned reception areas.
The sole tangible vocal on the album on ‘Better Healthier Computer’ — an obvious parallel to Radiohead’s ‘Fitter Happier’) — places these ideas at the forefront, acting as a less subtle elucidation of the record’s themes in order to shade the surrounding tracks with meaning. The central voice is somewhere between a self-help guide and an off-brand Siri, making half-formed statements like “healthier for you” and “meditation or cognitive therapy“ that fade in and out of view, alongside the more sinister “It creates neural pathways in your brain”. Guided by a simple six note progression reminiscent of the peaceful solitude evoked by a pause menu, the effect is both soothing and insidious, depending on your level of engagement.
For some listeners the cognitive dissonance of such a listening experience might prove frustrating, but the fact that these tracks work as contemplative studies even when removed from their context indicates what a well thought-through project this is. The best satire doesn’t reduce itself to on the nose posturing: it finds a balance between the quality of both text and subtext. In crafting such a tightly premised record, Cosmin has delivered on both fronts, resulting in an ambient work that comments on the ever shifting playing field of the modern corporate environment, whilst also remaining a gratifying study of texture and tone.
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