Monobox – Regenerate
When Robert Hood began working under the alias Monobox in 1996, it was to establish a space for him to freely explore his minimal techno ambitions outside of his solo work and Floorplan. Separating the music from the Robert Hood mythos separated it from expectations, opening the floor for Hood to go in any which direction he desired. In this case, he found inspiration in a heavily futuristic narrative. The eponymous ‘monobox’ comes with its own mythology; the name was inspired by a work of science fiction that Hood first read as a boy. It tells the story of an extraterrestrial monolith that menacingly orbits the Earth. This skeletal concept would come to frame the tonality and direction of what Hood creates with Monobox; minimal to its core, but with an ominous, oft dystopian edge. Fowardbase Kodai, the EP with which Hood officially re-launched Monobox in October, suggested that the moniker had shifted further into its cyber darkness than ever before. The two tracks on there were some of Hood’s most menacing, most outright alien to date, pulsating and tearing at each other with the insidious energy of a xenomorph. Regenerate, the new album from Monobox on Hood’s own M-Plant label, shifts the tone toward ideas of growth and reemergence.
If Fowardbase Kodai found Hood lost in the cold darkness of deep space, then Regenerate sees him found on the space station of a metropolis from another galaxy. Regenerate courses with an energy that’s less threatening and more rigid, the tonality more utilitarian and less uncanny. The direction of Regenerate is full on big room, yet Hood keeps everything as sparse as possible. It’s minimalism but each element dialled up to the nth degree, which makes the music on Regenerate sound larger than the sum of its parts.
Part of this is Hood’s regimented commitment to the most fundamental elements of techno. The steady, 4/4 throb never lets up and everything that Hood places around it is impeccably designed to service this pulse while still being heard, adding texture and dynamism without over embellishing. The title track is made simply from a three chord modulation atop which a squelchy arpeggio bounces, washed in reverb and then polished into metallic splendour to sound richer than it is as it progresses. The nine minute epic Exoplanet similarly places a shuddering riff over an ebbing modulation that becomes increasingly more alien, with hi-hats and kicks that recede and emerge. Blackwater Canal throws in signatures and motifs from afrotech. But these elements are always led by the relentless 4/4 kick that throbs throughout Regenerate as its backbone. Never deviating from the regime, Hood’s machine sounds and ear worm elements create dimension to the tonality of what is being heard, suggestions rather than superimpositions.
Hood’s commitment to the barebones basics of techno and dedication to the structure of the form have always been central to the minimalism of Monobox, but the moniker was really forged by its sonic and conceptual aesthetic. That said, Regenerate is surprisingly easy to access. Surprising only in the context of his apparent shift away from Monobox’s penchant for the unnerving, which makes Regenerate sound less distinctive from his previous work. The extraterrestrial futurism is still there, but the sounds that Hood programmes are less ambiguous and disturbing than some of his previous oddities for Monobox. In a sense, this is a regeneration of sorts for the moniker and Hood’s return to a style in whose development he has been essential.
Listen to Exoplanet from Regenerate below.
Follow Monobox / Robert Hood