Best Of The Represses. April 2018: The Vision – Spectral Nomad (Metroplex)

Only the one this month. Just because.

Vision – Spectral Nomad (Metroplex)

After what seems like an eternity lingering on the edge of a re-release, Metroplex have finally managed to get this absolute corker back in to circulation. Originally released in 1996, Spectral Nomad came in the middle of what might still be Robert Hood’s greatest period. Aside from the way in which he continued to tighten and amplify the sophisticated, utterly stripped down grooves of the minimalist techno he had begun with Internal Empire two years before, he was also taking his first steps into a wider, less constrained world with his looser, thicker, Floorplan material as well as creating the deeper, Basic Channel infused sounds of Monobox. All three bore a striking family resemblance – a focus on sharpening the funk, and removing everything except the bones, the muscle, and the sinew – which was already apparent as something inherently Hoodian above whatever else the individual projects might bring with them. Where his old partner in crime, Jeff Mills, shared much of Hood’s basic ethos he used it as the foundation of a larger, more sweeping sound. Even the tightest of Jeff Mills’ tunes seem to reach outwards and upwards until they envelop the listener and the dancer. With Hood there is no such release; Everything is either movement or energy and every other element is jettisoned. The music turns in on itself.

The Vision was an older project, and one which actually had far less sonically in common with what he would later begin to create. A pair of early EPs – Gyroscopic on Underground Resistance, and Toxin on Hardwax – are brilliant, but they lean closer to the harder European rave tinged sound that Underground Resistance were making (which is hardly a surprise given Hood’s history and former place in the collective). They sound raw as hell. Heavy too; laden with acidic, porpoising riffs, light bending bass, and collapsing beats they represent techno from a period where the fury of the music is wound up with a soulfulness that came directly from house, lending an emotional edge which cuts right through the fuzz and the snarls.

Spectral Nomad was the third of The Vision records, and the last. Brought back by Hood after a four-year lay-off it didn’t seem interested in revisiting anything except the name. Certainly there was a dirtier vibe than was usually found in Hood’s other work of the period, but the music was denser, less concerned by a need for an immediate, visceral, thrill. More importantly, it also feels less willing to trade space to outside influences for Hood’s own ideas. Spectral Nomad is a very pure record in that sense, and only occasionally does it nod its head to others: Spectral Nomad itself is one of the few moments on the record to cast back to Hood’s older tastes. Its exploratory, jazzy, atmosphere echoes a lot of Juan Atkin’s work, and although it is expertly marshalled by Hood into a swaggering bop, its heart lies in an older – and perhaps more playful – Detroit.

The core of the record though is dominated by Hood’s focus on the grooves. Explain The Style unfolds in classic style with the endless flank of a slowly growing, precision crafted riff sliding by and the mammoth heft of a single kick drum leading the way. It could easily fit into Internal Empire or Minimal Nation. But it builds imperceptibly until it brings wobbling non-melodies borrowed from Mills to the fore, and releases the tension with the tiniest crackles of percussion. Detroit: One Circle flares into being like the first tune’s malicious, spectral, twin; travelling exactly the same ground, it cuts out Explains… willingness to meander and instead deepens and darkens the journey, scratching out a new path with snapping percussion and a looser but more urgent groove. It may not be absolutely one of the greatest techno tunes to emerge from Detroit but it isn’t far off, and its influence has probably touched more people than you’d imagine. You can sense its presence behind the early work of a number of Motor City producers, chief amongst them DJ Bone, whose own taste for rolling, expansive, yet stop-on-a-dime tight tunes shows a genuine understanding of what Hood was trying to achieve here.

Modern & Ancient feels like the sole misstep on Spectral Nomad for the first few times you hear it. It doesn’t really have much in common with anything else on the record – nor, in fact, with much else Hood was creating at the time – and seems isolated when you try to put it into context with the rest. But the tune itself make busy with its stark positioning and strange sense of adventure, climbing high enough, showing enough of itself that you can gradually understand its place here. Probably not enough, though, to stop you noticing what it isn’t over what it is.

Spectral Nomad is not the definitive Detroit techno record, as some would have you believe, and it perhaps lacks a little of the magic that the very best of Rob Hood’s creations all have, but it is a definite piece of the puzzle and anyone seeking to understand how we got from their to here should try to get to know it. This was Hood in the middle of a transition, translating not only between his own eras, but those of Detroit. It is techno of a different sort; not minimalist but trimmed by the same knife, and possessed by a mesmeric charm that keeps everything guided on the sonic beliefs which shaped so much of his music. It seems cheap somehow to say it, as if it detracts from the power of the music, but Spectral Nomad is an important document; it’s not the whole story, but offers instead a major perspective on one of electronic music’s most seminal genres. It’s that important. That it happens to bang so very hard is just the icing on the cake.