Max Graef – ‘Rivers of the Red Planet’ (Tartelet Records)

Emerging last year with a handful of richly detailed and soulful tracks that loosely found themselves based around a House template, the initial temptation was to compare Berliner Max Graef to his compatriot Danilo ‘Motor City Drum Ensemble’ Plessow. Certainly both artists shared a love of sampling at their core, but the former always seemed somewhat removed from the anaologue classicism so beloved of the latter. Now with the arrival of his debut album, ‘Rivers of the Red Planet’, comes a chance to take a long hard listen to what Graef’s unique talent has to offer.

House music, previously a vague constant of his productions, is only a notional presence on Graef’s debut. Having stated his inability to find a ‘House’ record that has held his attention from start to finish, the young German has instead made a body of work that is- at its essence, groove based, yet sprawling in its scope. Jazz and Hip-Hop are two influences that come to the fore with greater emphasis than ever before, as Graef at times takes a leaf out of the book of beat wizards such as Prince Paul, Madlib, Dilla and DJ Shadow in his approach. This groove focused yet sampledelic style can be witnessed no later than the album’s second track, ‘Itzehoe’-a sub heavy strut that is laced with all manner of choice melodic touches. Although he lands on a propulsive and powerful rhythm, Graef isn’t afraid to mix it up here- and on the rest of the record, by keeping things spontaneous and unquantised throughout, another quality he shares with some of the aforementioned producers.

This inclination to mix it up means the extended tracks on here are generally the strongest. ‘Quackeljochen’ oscillates between dubbed chords and the sound of a gradual robotic meltdown, teetering nervously on the brink of implosion. ‘Drums of Death’ meanwhile rides Samba-fied percussion and a forceful whistle over sliding bass guitar for the best part of four and a half tense minutes until keyboard licks rain down like manna from heaven to cool things off to a distinctly jazzier temperature for a moment.  Previously released on Graef’s own BoxAusHolz label last year, ‘Vino Rosetto’ is likely the choice cut for DJ’s looking to play this record out in the clubs. With a fizzing acid-line positioned smack bang in the middle throughout, Graef makes us wait three minutes before unloading the devastating booty shaking breakdown, perfectly accenting the whole thing with some sweet chords.

A common element shared by these tracks and across the album is the way Graef soaks them all with a rich sense of his personality. German electronic music perhaps rather unfairly conjures up imagery of either ashen faced, austere Techno or sleek, polysexual Deep House, but here Graef conforms to neither stereotype-instead displaying a wryly ironic sense of humor that puts him in league with his similarly excellent compatriot Damiano Von Erckert. ‘Tamboule Fudgemunk’ ( a nod to the criminally underrated Damu The Fudgemunk?) exemplifies this best with its crudely cut and pasted American vocal samples heralding the intrusion of a zoned out LFO over its undulating reverb heavy stride. Its this admirable willingness not to take himself at all seriously that allows him to be so very versatile. ‘Tamboule Fudgemunk’ thus is left sounding not a bit out of place next to either the lovelorn after hours electric Jazz of his and Nigerian vocalist Wayne Snow’s ‘Running’, or ‘Buschenoffner’ (German for can opener)-which functions as the tongue in cheek backing track for the greatest sci-fi themed 70’s porno that never was.

Much of the album’s running time is devoted to shorter tracks around the two to three minute mark, which rather unsurprisingly don’t quite hit the same lofty heights as the longer efforts. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with ‘Superswiss” sparse gait or ‘Medley For The Drifters” stoned Dilla-isms, but they also don’t particularly demand repeat listens either. Nonetheless the resounding positive to take from this slew of musical sketches is that Graef clearly has ideas to burn – a tantalising thought after you remind yourself for what is most likely the umpteenth time that he’s only 21(!) years old.

Swimming in more reference points than could possibly be absorbed on a single listen, Graef doesn’t wear these influences as a burden, but instead uses them as the rich seasoning to his clearly sky high level of technical proficiency. As discussed, at 16 tracks in length it was never going to be a case of ‘all killer, no filler’, but in that respect Graef is keeping with the majority of the Hip-Hop classics that he undoubtedly reveres-‘3 Feet High and Rising’ or ‘Entroducing’ anyone? Most of all though, the abiding impression left by this immensely satisfying long player is of an intriguing young artist whose confidence is second only to his charming sonic personality.

‘Rivers of the Red Planet’ is out now on Tartelet Records, buy it here.

Christian Murphy 

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