Robert Hood: M-Print: 20 Years Of M-Plant Music

If there's a single Robert Hood release one must own, it would have to be this one. With thirty-three tracks spread across three CDs, M-Print: 20 Years Of M-Plant Music is as definitive a portrait of Hood's M-Plant project as could be imagined. That the music itself, conceived as an outlet for Hood's revisioning of Detroit techno, is so consistently strong only makes the release all the more essential. The 225-minute collection includes original cuts, remixes, and unreleased tracks by Hood, many issued under his own name but also his Floorplan and Monobox aliases. While the tracks are not sequenced in strict chronological order, each CD is rooted in a distinct concept: the first focuses on M-Plant's formative years (all but one of its eleven cuts are from the ‘90s); the second centers on material from the last five years and the resurrection of Floorplan; and the comparatively more experimental third points to future directions without turning its back on the past.

Representative tracks such as “The Grey Area” and “Untitled 1” are superb examples of stripped-down techno that might be minimal but are no less artful for being so. Time and time again, Hood shows himself to be a master at shaping a track, at knowing the precise moment when a shift needs to occur and a sound added or subtracted. Notice, for instance, the sneaky way he brings an acidy synth into 1994's “The Pace” six minutes into its ten-minute run. Admittedly, there are moments where it makes little sense to call Hood's music minimalistic: cases in point, 1995's “Untitled Sketch,” which stokes a mind-bending swirl that verges on furious; and 2001's “The Greatest Dancer,” which, bolstered by a funky house pulse, works itself into an ecstatic lather.

On disc two, the funk, disco, and soul dimensions within “The Greatest Dancer” grow more prominent, and Hood's religious faith moves to the fore in the 2010 Floorplan cut “We Magnify His Name,” a gospel-tinged throwdown driven by a pounding bass-thrusting groove and joyous vocal testifying. Memorable too are the Floorplan jams “Baby, Baby” (from 2011's Sanctified) and the anthemic “Never Grow Old” (from 2013‘s Paradise), the latter of which receives a mighty boost from the soulful presence of Aretha Franklin (the incendiary vocal lifted from her 1999 Gospel Greats album). As mentioned, disc three is the slightly more experimental one of the three (exemplified by the previously unreleased mix of “Who Taught You Math”) and also the one featuring the greatest number of unreleased tracks, re-edits, and remixes. Some cuts are skeletal in design (the re-master of 1995's “Untitled 4,” re-plant of “Protein Valve 1,” and previously unreleased “Minimal Minded”) and some acid-drenched (the previously unreleased “Monkey”).

One fascinating thing Hood's ultra-minimalistic cuts reveal is how small the distance sometimes is between his music and a classical minimalist composer like Philip Glass. In each composer's case, the music repeats so unrelentingly it imparts an hypnotic effect, and both Hood and Glass demonstrate a kindred sensitivity when it comes to dictating changes within a given arrangement (check out disc one's “Protein Valve 1” and “Unix” and disc two's 2009's “Range” as examples). Of course, the fundamental difference between them lies in the genre-related rhythms the two work with, as Glass's music doesn't root itself in house and techno music rhythms as Hood's obviously does. On this exhaustive collection, Hood repeatedly spins gold from a modest number of elements.

December 2014