Tartelet has a knack for uncovering virtuosic, off-kilter electronic music. Max Graef—born, bred and still holding it down in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg—is their latest artist in this mold. Though adventurous dance music is thick on the ground in the German capital, Graef's 2013 run of singles, cropping up on Graef's own Box aus Holz, plus Melbourne Deepcast, The Gym, Heist and Tartelet, continually surprised, infusing worn-in house with manic energy and acrobatic elasticity. Where many of his peers make languid, self-consciously laid-back tunes, Graef makes brilliantly restless ones. Dropping the needle on one of his EPs, you nearly expect it to pop right off again.
Rivers of the Red Planet, Graef's first full-length and Tartelet's latest album project, takes all that wildness and refines, expands, updates and scrambles it. It's as ambitious and deviously entertaining a record as you'll hear in 2014, the fulfillment of Graef's desire to make anything but another contemporary house music album. At any given moment, Rivers of the Red Planet feels like it could have been recorded through the smoke at a jazz club in the booth at a techno club 30 years from now or inside an MPC stocked with crusty dollar-bin samples. (We'd guess the staff at Graef's beloved OYE Records in Berlin will have a difficult time settling on which section to file it in.) If it sounds sampled, it's a testament to Graef's natural musicianship and production prowess—the record is heavy on sounds he played himself, from drums and Rhodes to fat synth melodies wrung out of an old Crumar Performer water-damaged to perfection. For vocals, Graef enlisted Nigerian singer Wayne Snow, whose rugged soulfulness makes him a natural pairing. On cuts like "Drums Of Death" and "Speed Metal Jesus," the club-readiness of his EPs lives on. But Rivers of the Red Planet may be most at home in your living room, with a good bottle of red and a roaring fire's crackles mixing with the pops and hiss of the vinyl—a playful listen that sinks in, burrowing deep and getting you all warm and gooey on the inside.