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Robert Hood
Mirror Man Noel Gardner , December 4th, 2020 09:16

The maestro returns with an album by turns gloriously ambient and unabashedly pounding, finds Noel Gardner

One of the absolute most significant figures in American techno’s storied history, Robert Hood’s three-decade tenure in the game has been marked by a consistently fierce work ethic – including outside of the dance music biz. A lynchpin in the development of the Detroit sound in the early 90s, making some fearsomely hard and fast records as part of the Underground Resistance clique, since the early 00s he’s lived in Alabama, with a turn to Christianity leading to him becoming an ordained minister. The clearest bridge between these two parts of Hood’s life, although he’s repeatedly stressed the commonalities between club and church culture, is his gospel-inflected Floorplan project, which is now a duo featuring daughter Lyric Hood and has arguably brought the elder member his biggest hits.

The spirituality tends to be less telegraphed on a Robert Hood solo release, with his latest, the 77-minute Mirror Man, no exception. There are, going on recent interviews, sociopolitical backstories to these tracks’ development into an album: created during 2020 while prevented from DJing, that and the rolling boil of white supremacy which spilled over post-George Floyd’s murder led Hood to reflect on his own role as an artist, as per the title. As per most of his productions, meanwhile, Mirror Man is wholly instrumental (unless you count a mildly haunted vocal loop among the arresting stabs and vintage-sounding rave riffs of ‘Fear Not’), so this background info is, perhaps, most useful for altering one’s headspace when listening to a release with both immersive depth and heart-racing intensity.

Save for a couple of brief interludes, plus bombastic album opener ‘Through A Looking Glass Darkly’ – which sounds like music for the opening credits of some sci-fi blockbuster; you expect to be disturbed by a teenager kicking the back of your seat at any moment – Mirror Man sounds primed for the dance, maybe more so than his last full-length, 2017’s Paradygm Shift. The sequencing doesn’t obviously echo that ‘journey by DJ’ experience, but there’s a boshy uptick in the album’s latter stage. ‘Ignite A War’ is as big room as Hood gets, slick muscularity like I associate with, say, Chris Liebing; ‘7 Mile Dog’, too, is unabashed in its mule-like kick and red-alert synth blare. ‘The Cure’, one of the more structurally complex tracks on here, makes good use of that effect where the bass sounds like it’s coming from three floors down inside a multistorey car park.

Elsewhere, Mirror Man is more restrained or austere, sometimes harking back to his gamechanging 1994 release Minimal Nation: see ruthless, micro-precise builder ‘Nothing Stops Detroit’ or ‘Run, Bobby, Run’, which eventually hulks up into something peaktime with the aid of some boisterous hi-hats. ‘Black Mirror’ sports keys redolent of Detroit techno’s mellower set, or perhaps Hood’s own Motor: Nighttime World LP, while the synth towards the close of ‘A System Of Mirrors’ could be Jean-Michel Jarre. The ambient lushness of much of this particular cut, in fact, is countered rudely by a monotonic kickdrum and flurries of more complex percussion – not quite the quintessential Robert Hood track, but one which demonstrates the multiple strings in his bow, and his mastery over the machines.