Essen’s Glenn Astro and Berlin’s Max Graef are dedicated vinyl buffs. Cold, mechanical dance tracks don’t get them hot under the collar. For the most part they favour deeply dug nuggets of jazz, disco and rare groove. Where once that manifested in their music as sample chunks layered in crackly breakbeats and dusted 4/4, now they’ve abandoned samples in favour of live instruments and played in riffs, chopped up and thrown into spicy, flavoursome stews of modern beat science.
Apart, they’ve made acclaimed records for Tartelet, Space Hardware and WotNot Music. Graef’s debut album, Rivers of the Red Planet, was a rough, scuffed, emotional triumph drawing from his many influences. Similarly, Glenn Astro’s excellent Throwback filched samples from all over and arranged them in outlandish, compelling shapes, from abstract downtempo drums to rickety house cuts.
Being friends and sharing an audio outlook, they’ve joined forces, following their first collaboration on Money $ex Records in 2015. Though Ninja Tune has dabbled with house music over the years, it’s not what the label is known for; still, it’s the sonic approach of Graef and Astro that makes them such a good fit for the label.
Truthfully, to call their music house wouldn’t be the full story, nor would it explain the purposefully ramshackle constructions they build around 4/4 kick drums. The Yard Work Simulator, like their other material, is characterised by its loose, unquantized feel. In the way J Dilla or Samiyam made hip-hop tracks—deliberately sloppy and all the funkier for it—Graef and Astro make disco and house, if you can call it that. At a time of binary oppositions in dance music, where on the one hand lies super slick, perfect production and mixes, and on the other lies deliberately scuffed, distorted tunes layered with synthetic tape hiss, Glenn and Max err to the latter. But it’s not studied in their case; the music on The Yard Work Simulator is natural.
Consider the title cut, with its live funk breaks, warm bass runs, rippling jazz chords and Rhodes keyboard flows. This is the kind of stuff that by rights should get Gilles Peterson or Theo Parrish excited, sounding more like a modern manifestation of the records they once sampled, rather than an ersatz attempt at funk. That it descends into filtered pads, suggests a modernity they’re keen to impart on their records to stop them descending into pastiche.
The cut "W313D" touches on Detroit house, a little akin to the weirder works of Kyle Hall for instance, but loaded with microscopic details and coated in diaphanous layers of jazzy ambience. Robotic, crunching, cut-up, but also soulful and experimental, it suggests that the pair have found a sound to call their own. "Jumbo Frøsnapper" is all scrunched up beats, strange, panned effects and jazz organ chords; but through the fuzz, tight, propulsive kicks, hats and snares punch through.
These are their beloved records, guzzled up, internalized, and regurgitated in new unrecognizable forms; music of the past as perceived by modern minds; an even balance between tight live instrumentation and charming studio nous. Give this record a few spins, and you’ll succumb to their peculiar, but beguiling world too.
02. Where The F**k Are My Hard Boiled Eggs?!
03. Money $ex Theme
04. The Yard Work Simulator
05. Flat Peter
06. China Nr 04
08. Magic Johnson (Album Mix)
09. Jumbo Frosnapper
10. Viktor's Blues
The Yard Work Simulator is out now on LP, CD and digitally.