Though never one for aggression in his music, Donoso opens his latest album, Machine To Machine, with an explosive gesture that sounds like a cleaned-up, dusted-down version of a Tim Hecker climax. But "Akrasia"'s distortion and grandiose tendencies never feel particularly powerful. It's an attempt to burst out of the blocks with captivating sonic gymnastics, but it sounds like a Dolby Surround Sound ad—all bluster, no danger. This initial shortfall colours the rest of Machine To Machine.
Donoso's history of scoring audio/visual works, best captured on his 2014's A Song For Echo, plays a big role here. The tracks often feel like background music from a video game. "Axon Terminal" bubbles like a first-person shooter, and "HaR1" is frozen like an RPG's ice world. Penultimate track "Dance Of Attunement" is a welcome break from the half-baked tension that pervades the rest of the album, allowing for a brief but bright polyphony that feels radically different. It's the one time the music breaks the surface and breathes in some air.
Machine To Machine has the shape of drama, but not the heart of it. Something about it never sticks. Maybe it's the sounds, which seem a little lifeless and a little constrained. There is no danger of them breaking out of their lanes, spilling into each other or causing any kind of rupture. There are neatly delineated paths for each melody and rhythm to follow, and the results are all too stately. The textures can be pretty in places, the rhythms interesting, but they don't feel like they've got blood in their veins.
For all the work that's clearly gone into Machine To Machine, something important is missing. Its title suggests the album is all about machines, but it's more of a middle ground—machines put in service of human patterns, made to reflect and reiterate traditional harmonies and structures. The sounds have no autonomy; Donoso remains in unquestionable control at all times.