Cosmin Nicolae, alias Cosmin TRG and formerly just TRG, has hopped across some of dance music’s finest labels, plotting a course from dubstep and garage to techno, with some halfway houses in between; and with his second LP for 50Weapons there’s corresponding stylistic diversity, all within the overarching structure of melodic techno. Traces of dub-techno, IDM, and even ambient, all permeate Gordian, either explicitly or not, and all are imbued with an emotional warmth that gives unison.
Just as the Baudrillard-referencing title of his debut LP Simulat revealed a lot about the possible inspirations and content of the record, the title Gordian is similarly suggestive. A Gordian knot is an apparently irresolvable problem which can actually be solved easily if one approaches it in another way and recognises surprisingly simple solution. Nicolae explains the title thus, saying of it that it “describes the very contemporary, impossible task of discerning between real and replicated, authentic and contrived”, which also echoes the title of his previous LP and Baudrilliadian ideas of hyperreality. Whether one approaches the album with such ideas in mind may not lead to hearing it in radically different ways, but Nicolae’s attempts to diffuse some content into his work ought not to go unappreciated. This is a record that he describes as a “document of his year”, suggesting the music is more personal than the faceless machine music much techno aspires to or inadvertently ends up being; and such an announcement is consistent with Nicolae’s refusal to hide behind anonymity or mystique and to lay himself bare on his recordings.
In interviews Nicolae has suggested that his attempts to create a more stripped back album didn’t work, and that the album is packed with more than he originally intended, especially in terms of melodies, and in truth it’s the album rhythmically-led parts which are the most compelling. The energetic ‘Semipresent’ is a house and techno hybrid which offers one of the most exciting moments on the record, despite being more repetitive and less melody-driven than much of the LP. The sumptuous ‘Vertigo’ sounds like Floating Points doing battle with an 808, which leads to a thunderous minute-long percussive barrage after three minutes. Floating Points is a comparison that tracks like ‘Less of Me, More of You’ on Simulat also prompted, and it’s clear that the two producers share a similar ear for harmony, as well as an ability to make potentially frantic percussive arrangements sound laid back. That latter quality is evident on ‘To Touch Is To Divert’, which floats by in just two minutes.
There are a few troughs amidst the peaks, although they’re sparsely dispersed throughout the record. ‘Defeated Hearts Club’ is sadly a little sickly, with melancholic chords that veer too close to tacky ‘indietronica’ as exemplified by The Postal Service and their ilk. Furthermore, the largely instrumental break in the shape of ‘Epsilon, Epsilon’ feels unnecessary and unfinished, and would be better off developed into a longer piece or left out completely. If the album ever strays into sentimentality however, it can be excused and explained away. Nicolae’s music relies upon its warmth and emotionally affecting quality, and so it’s no surprise that across fifty minutes this occasionally spills over into off-colour instants of overwrought feeling. The album’s weaker points might lend support to the theory that techno producers are best leaving the album format alone, but this is a misleading impression. Tracks like ‘Defeated Hearts Club’ may sound like filler amidst stronger ones such as ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Desire is Sovereign’, but they don’t punctuate the flow of the record too much, and Gordian sounds sonically consistent throughout.
Gordian, despite a reasonable degree of aesthetic unity, gives the impression that Nicolae works best within the 12” format. There are some terrific tracks here which lose nothing from being dislocated from their context within the album; but even so, it’s a highly recommended listen for those already versed in Nicolae’s productions, and there’s more on offer than just the standout bangers.
‘Gordian’ is out April 26th via 50 Weapons