Available on: M-Plant LP
You know what you’re getting with a Robert Hood release. Uncompromising in his vision, his releases are usually exercises in single-minded progression; linear progressions that unfold slowly over their duration, like clockwork automatons moving through their paces. This has led, in the past, to full length collections of his work feeling a little redundant; Hood’s gift is his mastery of “tracks”, at their best when cutting through the surrounding music in a DJ set, rather than listened to in a more removed setting.
Last year’s Omega album, even given its positioning as a concept album, still in the main featured long, linear, uncoiling workouts which worked best at peak time. So it’s a surprise – albeit a welcome one – to find fairly soon after, by Hood’s standards anyway, a “live” album of sorts, taking in version of tracks from the preceding album as well as running a few well-known tracks from Hood’s back catalogue through an updated revamp.
It’s a confusing idea though. Although the tracks are versions of the same tracks from the live sets he’s toured since Omega‘s release, this isn’t a collection of live recordings – instead, the set has been recreated in the studio, which means it lacks something in spontaneity, even if it’s down to the listener subconciously knowing that it was recorded outside of an actual performance. This doesn’t mean the tracks sound sterile though – as live sets recorded in this way easily can – like another very succesful pseudo-live album, Sutekh’s Incest:Live, it takes familiar material and places a fairly different working methodology to it.
In Hood’s case, it means moving from the long, “minimal” (in structure rather than strictly in content) unfurling paradigm, to a more dynamic pace. It’s hardly filled with edgy live knob-tweaking, but you can hear parts, individual sounds and whole sections being manipulated in a much more immediate way than previously. Shorn of the need to use 64 bars as the benchmark for movement, Hood adds discordant noises, pitch shifts riffs and tweaks cutoffs while referencing other tracks and dropping recurring patterns and motifs in through the length of the whole set. It’s a continuous mix (or at least mainly is – more of which in a moment) and it’s possible to enjoy it as a whole without ever feeling that the best bits of individual tracks are the three minutes unblended in the middle of a mix.
Highlights come from the juxtaposition of ‘Run’ and ‘Alpha Alive’, which, while heavy, keeps variation in the other parts moving deftly and with a lightness of touch that means the beats never belabour the listener, while the reworkings of ‘Who Taught You Math?’ (weird granular tweaks counterpointing the house organ bass) and ‘Unix’ (squashing and compressing the original sickly organ line with flanged drums) keep the originals largely intact whilst adding in a complementary way. ‘Minimal Minimal’ is more problematic; described in the PR as “a call to arms for dancefloors”, its turgid repetition of the title phrase is more likely to have you reaching for the fast forward.
The real problem is that the album as a whole doesn’t reach far enough. With three bonus tracks tacked into the end – always a sure sign of a lack of confidence about the content – which are fairly unremarkable (the James Ruskin mix of Alpha the pick of the three, with plaintive strings matching the driving rhythm of the original), it seems a little disjointed. The actual “live”/Alive section comes in at an hour, which would have been ample, and presented as a proper live set – perhaps even recorded in situ on the accompanying tour – it would have made a fascinating document of an artist better known for well-developed, paced DJ sets moving into an edgier, more fluid and spontaneous direction. As it is, it’s still a great collection of a techno artist at he peak of his powers.