Floorplan Paradise

[M-Plant; 2013]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: techno, funk, gospel
Others: Jeff Mills, James Brown, God

When pressing play on an album called Paradise, you could feasibly expect to hear just about anything. Jangly folk-rock? Teary-eyed ambient? Maybe even nihilistic black metal? But the one thing you probably won’t expect is this: Floorplan’s opener “Let’s Ride” is a relentless, bustling thump, a slice of minimalist techno chugging and wheezing straight out of the gates. It sounds distinctly terrestrial, urban even, and, when an indecipherable looped vocal and dissonant synth pad enter later on, testament to the overwhelming and disorienting effects of the modern city.

Yet Paradise is not an ironic title. Floorplan is the alias of Robert Hood, the minimal techno pioneer best known for 1994’s Minimal Nation and whose 22 years of music-making show a remarkably unified vision of gritty realism allied to unbridled optimism. A devout Christian and almost embarrassingly sincere, Hood’s stated aim with the Floorplan project is to “spread a message about the goodness of God.”

In this context, “Let’s Ride” is a lesson in acceptance: this is the world we live in, and it’s up to us whether to see it as ugly, confusing, or otherwise. Give yourself up to them, and those stiff-sounding drums are surprisingly funky, that pad euphorically mysterious — paradise, perhaps, is all around.

Elsewhere, Hood builds narratives of hope and struggle, suggesting both that paradise is something to work towards and that his faith in God provides the strength to do so. “Baby Baby” is a frantic, almost juke-style track in which a James Brown break every eighth bar provides the essential re-energizing needed to carry on. “Change” sees two wiggling synth lines, an insistent stab, and all manner of percussion do slow battle, each alternately emerging or being subsumed according to filters, phasing, and panning. The track doesn’t exactly go anywhere, but the ways in which the elements interact, tagging each other in and out and re-entering just when you think no hope is left, is penetrating.

On other tracks, Hood expresses the sheer joy of his faith. “Confess,” like the act of confession itself, is incredibly simple yet profound. It’s hard to imagine many other producers having the guts to release a track like this, let alone the skill or artistic integrity to pull it off. With nothing more than one repeated piano riff and some super-expressive drums, the outpouring of feeling and relief is palpable. More complex is “Never Grow Old,” in which hammering stabs, vinyl crackle, and fading cheers show the passing of time while a sampled soul vocal promises spiritual immortality.

Although Hood undoubtedly produces with the dancefloor in mind, he also places high value on the album format, having released nine — including even a trilogy — under his own name to date. The way his tracks work on the floor is not by pummeling dancers into submission with over-the-top build-and-drop structures, but by allowing each to find their own groove — and that’s something that applies equally to the home listener. Even the polished tech-house of “Higher” and “Eclipse” is not excessively clubby, and these tracks actually contribute well to the album’s flow.

That built-in room for interpretation may again come in handy for anyone turned off by Hood’s overt Christianity, but really, his sincerity — and in particular, the deep and straightforward relationship he builds between sound and meaning — is key to enjoyment. Signification has become a hot topic in dance music of late, but, between FaltyDL’s postmodern pileups, DJ Sprinkles’ post-colonial critique, and Zomby’s style/substance disconnect, much of the discourse has been around decontextualization: producers using time-, place-, and culture-specific sounds while ignoring or obscuring those implications. Paradise comes in at the other end of the scale, with every aesthetic decision joyously affirming its own rich history.

Hood’s decision to foreground the specificities — black, American, Christian — is not only impressively upfront, but also perfectly in line with the stylistic and conceptual decisions he’s made elsewhere. Aesthetically, funk, soul, and gospel are part of the same tradition that runs from African polyrhythms, through house and classical minimalism, to minimal techno, and Hood’s faith enables him to embrace these influences as more than just empty signifiers. The result enriches all of these traditions, making for a thrilling and enlightening listen that forces a fresh look at Hood’s peers and back catalogue.

Links: Floorplan - M-Plant

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