The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Robert Hood
M-Print: 20 Years Of M-Plant Music Albert Freeman , December 15th, 2014 14:16

While Robert Hood definitively did not invent Detroit techno, to a good many, he may be its most defining artist, and for quite strong reasons. The genre was born nearly a decade before his first mature solo releases and blossomed in the intervening years, and Hood in many ways stuck to the mould throughout, releasing torrents of DJ-aimed singles at a ferocious pace unbroken to this day with little in the way of filler. More importantly though, Hood was nearly the first album-oriented artist to come from the movement, with each of his long players a conceptual tour de force whose breadth and impact sent reverberations through the genre and inspired producers for decades to come. In Detroit techno, his consistency and longevity is fairly unrivaled, and while his forbears and contemporaries continue to spin off compelling work and remain strong live performers, Hood is the rare example whose artistry only seems to grow with time.

It's possible to read into his mission just from the titles of the tracks. Hood's later-career transformation into an avowed Christian, complete with his gospel-tinged Floorplan material, may throw off some commentators, but from his beginnings as an MC for the legendary Underground Resistance crew, his position as a preacher was defined. Although faced with a spiritual crisis in the mid-2000s that caused him to re-interpret his own mission in an explicitly religious context, in reality the spirituality had always been there and the music changed little. It's difficult to read pieces like Minimal Nation or Internal Empire as less than the heavily-loaded modernisations of Detroit soul that they surely are; if they arrived in a nearly-unrecognisable form in the mid-90s, 20 years later their canonical status can't be doubted. Due to the vastness of his output, however, anthologising him could never be an easy task, and any attempt at it is sure to leave out its share of classic material and please only as many as it puts off.

M-Print: 20 Years Of M-Plant is a necessarily imperfect attempt at whittling down a highly coherent life's work to a more easily digestible (but still substantial) statement, and in all of its strengths and flaws, it makes for compelling listening. Many of the foibles are transparent in some way: with much of his influential catalogue tied up in the hands of other record labels unwilling or unable to part ways with the material, things were necessarily going to be left out that deserved inclusion. It's essentially split equally into a disc each of classics, recent material, and new versions/unreleased material, yet another decision that may rile some fans but, in consideration of the weight of his recent resurgence, is a reasonable assessment.

For the classics, it leans extraordinarily heavily towards 1994-1996, with liberal samplings from Moveable Parts Chapter. 1, Protein Valve, Internal Empire, and Minimal Nation, all justly noted as high points in Hood's early work. Aside from Internal Empire, all are recently reissued, which makes it frustrating that a broader sampling wasn't considered. There are notable gaps and weaknesses, mostly concerning the mid-2000s Peacefrog era, but more curious is the omission of anything from the first two parts of Nighttime World, both long unavailable and widely considered amongst the very best of Hood's accomplishments. On its own, the track list is quite impressive, but compared to all possible inclusions it comes off slightly narrow and incredibly restrictive for an artist whose career spans over two decades and a tremendous number of individual releases, even if one is only to consider the M-Plant material.

Striking as they are, the disc of 2009-present tracks are probably a bit premature for anthologising next to the classics, especially the few tracks that appeared on his two most recent albums, Paradise and Motor: Nighttime World 3. Its "major hit" status aside, 'We Magnify His Name' is not likely to age well in Hood's lifetime assessment and is overly didactic and proof that Floorplan is a project that has reached its fullest development relatively recently since his resurgence. It was notably underdeveloped in his late '90s heyday, little more than a series of singles that took a slightly housier sound than his ultra-minimal techno. His recent singles under his own name fall similarly to the side of the full-lengths; they're impressive in their own right but are mostly minor compared to the album material, where his sound achieves an entirely deeper sense of development.  

The third disc of new versions and unreleased tracks is a mixed bag, and it proves that the classic material is in little need of updates and that the difference between the new tracks, the alternate versions, and the originals are not immense. Hood's production has grown noticeably more detailed and rich over time, and while it's sure he re-listens to his old classics and finds in them possibilities for improvement, in many cases they're best left as is, 'imperfections' intact. Modernised adaptations of 'Minus', 'Externus Oblique', and 'Protein Valve' offer valid alternatives but fall short of revelation. Occasionally, as with the Re-Plant of recent Floorplan effort 'The Family', he actually re-makes it to sound paradoxically older than the original. Some of the alternate versions, like the hands-down classic 'Who Taught You Math', are little changed at all, and sophisticated unreleased tracks like 'Full Armor' seem more appropriately revealed elsewhere than on a compilation more geared towards new fans than to collectors.

Robert Hood's stylistic inventions, next to those of Jeff Mills, are some of the most widely imitated in techno and have birthed an entire subgenre and schools of thought. A very notable number of techno's greatest later artistic figures started off as little more than disciples, and anthologies like this may be problematic at core but provide a valuable service in reviving long-unavailable material. A straight reissue of the more significant pieces – Internal Empire and first two Nighttime World albums – would go a long way towards correcting the current situation, certainly further than this manages with its mixed agenda and relatively small proffering of truly definitive, classic material. Hood's legacy is still growing however, and there's no shortage of revelatory moments here, past and present and for once placed alongside each other for easy comparison.  

With Hood's career and urgency he inspires in his fans, one could spend ages attempting to list the highest of the high points without coming to any definitive, digestible conclusion. M-Print: 20 Years Of M-Plant is one of many ways of undertaking a project whose validity is proven by his undiminished and in fact increasing abilities to awe. A few tracks taken from a few of techno's most celebrated releases can't be a let down, but it's more inspiring that the artist who made them 20 years ago is currently surpassing these early masterpieces. Long may he reign, and as far as history lessons go, this one sounds better than most.

 

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.