Review of The Yard Work Simulator Album by Max Graef

Here at Contact Towers it's rare that someone isn't reading one of Simon Reynolds books  and at the moment we're getting stuck into Retromania, his take on why as a society we're becoming increasingly obsessed with the past, especially in the arts.

Max Graef The Yard Work Simulator Album

A chunk of its premise says that this is due partially to an inexorable slowdown in Western culture being at the Zeitgeist - the last true youth movement he claims being the rave and acid house boom of the early nineties - but equally because devices like the iPod and smartphones have levelled music in particular's consumption experience to the disposability of eating a bag of crisps. Phew.

Oh and one more thing: he also reckons that the availability of almost any content you want, whenever you want, has turned many of us into cool hounds, proto-hipsters more concerned with the cachet that playlisting The Beatles fourty years after they were any good is going to provide us with our peers. You'll be relieved to learn that there is a point to all this and it's relevant to Max Graef and Glenn Astro's record: it's that if anything serves to underline Reynolds quite worthy hypothesis, it's The Yard Work Simulator.

Take for instance Graef and Astro's bio, one which has them both hanging out in Berlin's OYE record store, bonding over a mutual admiration for the sort of crate digging ephemera which constitutes acute guter Geschmack: it's the kind of place that stocks albums like Bob Foster's "Jingles And Programme Cues Volume 9" without so much as a post-ironic smirk. Both have had solo albums out before previously, but Graeff is credited with being as much a musician and audiophile as he is a collagist. Astro is a remixer as well as producer but his background - like so many emerging artists in the vicinity - is in hip-hop and beat science.

CV's to die for then, which makes The Yard Work Simulator all the more mysteriously disappointing.  It's not that the potion is an unfamiliar one, being layers of samples, recherché funk and jazz loops, doused house beats and some foot tapping breaks. It's just that the time machine the duo strap us into - on the likes of money Sex Theme, China Nr.4 and the watery, laid back closer Viktor's Blues - has taken us back to a reminder of a blinder it feels like we've had before. And before. And before.

Deja vu? Well clearly yes. And this was one of Reynolds major gripes. Graef and Astro aren't just observers, they feel here like style guides, the washed out vibes of Jumbo Frosenapper so perfectly nuanced that it winds up like a kitsch ornamental conversation piece, personal tune shopping being done for you.  Superficially the new wardrobe is full to bursting, but then after repeated listens the track's ersatz grain and peripheral hi-hats make for a throwaway soup with little flavour.

All of this cataloguing reaches an apex on the title track, a sort of Cosmic jazz hipstergasm that might have Herbie Hancock checking back through his own discography to make sure it wasn't all him in the sunlight, 1972. Look, this record isn't genuinely bad - bad records are released every day, we know bad records - it just feels like something assembled from sounds that people really cool people think other really cool people will think are really cool. No-one's saying that Graeff and Astro aren't Sweet Soul Soldiers either. But the truth is that The Yard Work Simulator feels like it's been recycled, a little grey, an authentic counterfeit.

The more we get uptight about the future the more it's reckoned we read about the past and want it's future-nostalgia to envelop us: it's a journey that needs guides if that's the passport you want to use, but sadly The Yard Work Simulator is neither a facsimile or a ghost. It just is, and that's no sort of history at all.