Robert Hood is a legendary figure in electronic music. One of the founders of the Underground Resistance collective and a revered solo artist, and one-half of Floorplan with his daughter Lyric Hood, his work is often described as minimal but is in fact quite maximal, in that it’s impossible to ignore. It’s minimal like a Richard Serra sculpture is minimal. It wraps around you, while simultaneously keeping you at a distance, pinned down by Hood’s own dispassionate gaze.
Hood’s drum programming is the key to his music. It’s a constant low rumble, the almost subsonic bass turning individual kick drum hits into the pulse of a speeding engine, as the hiss and tick of synthetic hi-hats provide the primary rhythm, much the way a bebop drummer sets the pulse with his hi-hat and uses the kick drum or the snare as accents. Snares are barely a presence in Hood’s work. It’s all hiss and boom.
One of Hood’s most striking works is his 2010 album Omega, a suite of dark and frightening tracks inspired by the 1971 movie The Omega Man. Tracks had titles like “War in the Streets” and “Towns That Disappeared Completely” and the deceptively simple synth melodies, layered over beats like one’s own heartbeat pounding in one’s ears, created tension but withheld release. The following year, a companion release, Omega: Alive, offered the same intensity with an even greater willingness to punish the listener: the track “Minimal, Minimal” featured the title word repeated so many times that it lost all meaning, dissolving into a triplet of mindless phonemes.
In 2017, Hood released Paradygm Shift, a full-length album preceded by three 12″ singles. It was much more house music-indebted than Omega; the tracks rose to crescendos of breathtaking intensity at times — a slowly building and warping organ pattern in “Pneuma” had the head-exploding focus of early Philip Glass. At the same time, “Pattern” was as cold as electronic music gets, barely more than a loop and a steady kick.
Hood’s newest album, Mirror Man, offers a mixture of his various approaches. The rhythms are fast and relentless, and the synth lines pulse like a Tesla coil the size of a building, sometimes bolstered by a more ambient, pretty wash, like light breaking through clouds but only for a moment. The majority of the pieces are instrumental; when a human voice is heard, as on “Fear Not,” it’s wordless, just a sample of a single note looped forever. The rhythm-driven pieces are broken up by more exploratory tracks like “Black Mirror,” which starts out beatless and shares some melodic qualities with recent Autechre. “A Shattered Image” is even more surprising, a creepy 57-second interlude like an outtake from a horror movie soundtrack, with warped, incomprehensible voices moaning over eerie synths. That leads directly into “Ignite a War,” an ultra-aggressive minimal techno track as cold-eyed as anything on Omega.
Techno is a music that lends itself to anonymity. But somehow, despite working in a variety of styles and under multiple names, Robert Hood has developed an extremely identifiable style — a “voice” that comes through in his drum programming, in his synth lines, in his ultra-precise editing and his ability to never let a track, or a moment, linger too long. Mirror Man is not necessarily an album concerned with the listener’s pleasure, but all the feelings it creates are extraordinarily powerful. He’s a master, and this album is a masterwork.