Floorplan – ‘Paradise’ (M-Plant)

Robert Hood’s debut album under his more house orientated moniker ‘Floorplan’ sees Hood retain all the funk and weight we associate with the techno legend while injecting a refreshing amount of off-kilter soul. Techno full lengths seem to come naturally to Hood, with ‘Paradise’ being his fourth LP offering in as many years, but while most of these albums stuck to Hood’s characteristic and genre defining minimalism, ‘Paradise’ shifts gear into a more soulful and altogether rawer sound.

‘Paradise’ is as much a collation of the Floorplan material to date as it is an offering of fresh cuts, with dance floor classics such as ‘Baby Baby’ and ‘Altered Ego’ making an appearance. Just to make it perfectly clear these tracks do not need to be reviewed. They are incredible. Simple as that. However, they do provide a benchmark with which to hang the rest of the material on. Thankfully the new music fits the bill with ease, demonstrating once again that Hood has an incredible handle on his own sound and creative execution, more so than almost every other techno artist recording today.

Tracks such as ‘Lets Ride’ combine the best of Hood’s machine-funk with thoughtful strings and jarring pitched vocals, both rough, ready and hypnotic. ‘Chord Principle’ follows suit with flourishes of high pitched laughter hanging off the driving stabs, these tracks represent a synthesis of Hood’s sound with a playfulness often missing from his harder work. Tracks such as ‘Higher’ and ‘Above the Clouds’ sound more familiar with crushing 909 work being the main attraction. These tracks sit comfortably in the wash of the album’s sound, being both subdued enough for home listening and tough enough to be used as club tools.

The real highlights of the album are when Hood forgoes the measured subtlety he is known for in favour of bombastic DIY sampling. While Hood’s music is often synth heavy, the most standout material from his Floorplan moniker has always been when the synths take a backseat and the vocals and acoustic samples are brought to the fore. With this is in mind it is a shame that the anthemic ‘We Magnify His Name’ was passed over for an appearance, luckily for us the inclusion of ‘Never Grow Old’ and ‘Confess’ fill some of the gaps that were left. ‘Confess’ is characterised by an overtly optimistic piano sample, heavy on the gospel connotations in both name and sound. The main refrain’s simplicity is complemented by rigid and expertly timed drum work. This is house music with the tempo where it should be. Simple syncopated drum sections help to whip up the rhythm into a rolling delight, with the piano dancing around its rigidity for the whole six and a half minutes.

The ultimate highlight of ‘Paradise’ is ‘Never Grow Old’. This track appeared as an edit in Ben Klock’s fabriclive mix late last year, and was talked about as a slow burning vocal house number. Thankfully the original which is included on the album is anything but. This is an extraordinary track. Its main focus is a crudely sampled acapella from Aretha Franklin’s gospel classic of the same name, coupled with a simple chord driven backing. The suspense and intensity of this track is masterful. Admittedly it took a few listens to settle in to, when we are so used to vocals being laid down in such emotionless contexts in most dance music (Disclosure, et al) to hear something as raw as this is a bit of a surprise. But ultimately this is a lesson in how real emotional music should be made. It is an experience to say the least, with the most intense moments appearing when the vocal and chord stabs are left alone without drums at all. Unfortunately because of the way dance music has evolved over the last couple of years in the UK this probably won’t make it into “club classic” territory. But if truth be told, it will remain a cult classic for those it matters most to.

‘Paradise’ is a pleasure from start to finish. It almost seems ridiculous to pass approval over to a legend such as Robert Hood, but it is refreshing to point out that his evolution even within the context of his familiar sound is still continuing. His spiritual relationships with life and music come through most clearly on this album, with religious motifs making subtle appearances across the record and as a confirmed atheist I found myself catching these references with delight rather than scorn. In short it’s masterful, emotional and danceable. All the best of what a dance music album can be. All hail Hood!

Sean Hughes

‘Paradise’ is out now on M-Plant 

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