Following on from their December 2015 release of ’Magic Johnson’ on Ninja Tune, German producers Max Graef and Glenn Astro are back with a full-length release on the label. Drawing influence from jazz, hip-hop, funk and disco as well as more contemporary electronic music, the album brings together a myriad of themes on what is a unique and intriguing album. Every track is awash with whirs, whistles, pitch shifts and a smorgasbord of unusual sounds. A little bit like a Year 9 music lesson — when everyone switched the keyboards to “DJ!” mode — except the Year 9 students in this instance are two genuinely talented musicians and producers, and the cheap Yamaha keyboards have been replaced with a whole host of expensive instruments, pads and synthesisers. That somewhat strained analogy is not meant disparagingly; the ever-shifting dynamic and array of sounds keep each track interesting, reflecting the obvious influence of free-form and improvisational jazz on the album and its creators.
This jazz influence is also clear in much of the more traditional instrumentation throughout the album. From the live drums on the outro of title track ‘Yard Work Simulator’ and on ‘Magic Johnson’ to the jazzy keyboard and piano lines throughout the album as a whole. It’s definitely dancefloor music, but it also has the feeling that the dancefloor would need to be in the sunshine. It’s certainly not brooding dark-room music that’s for sure, taking more from funk, disco and old-school hip-hop than from house or techno; from the rolling hi-hats and 808s of ‘$ex Theme’, a song that sounds like a warped dancefloor interpretation of a Blaxploitation soundtrack, to the ever-present funky basslines that wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic Rick James record. Maybe this eclectic range of influences should be fully expected, owing to the hip-hop origins of Glenn Astro, and Max Graef’s history playing in jazz ensembles in his youth.
It should also come as no surprise that the album doesn’t take itself too seriously. After all, it takes its name from a joke in a classic episode of The Simpsons whilst the opening track and lead single ‘Where The Fuck Are My Hard-Boiled Eggs?’ is an Arrested Development reference. But to draw on another comedy reference, the persistent exploration of divergent instrument noises and sound effects does at times bring to mind Ross Geller’s unique keyboard ‘sound’ - albeit it with much greater musicality and talent coming from Max Graef and Glenn Astro, not to mention a significantly heightened sense of self-awareness. ‘The Yard Work Simulator’ may not be everybody’s cup of tea to listen through from beginning to end, but as a piece of work it is more unique, exploratory and interesting than many others that will be released this year.
Words: James Kilpin
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