Efdemin: Chicago
Dial Records

First things first: Chicago, the sophomore album by Berlin-based Phillip Sollmann under the Efdemin name, is neither a full-on house record nor a literal tribute to the city itself (though house is certainly one of the primary styles the album draws upon). Said to be Sollmann's “contribution to urban blues,” Chicago is instead more panoramic in approach with Sollmann crafting ten tracks that draw from house (micro- and deep), techno, funk, and jazz. Much of what distinguishes his music is its focus on detail, such as the hydraulic textures one can just barely hear wheezing behind the percolating groove powering its way through “Night Train” or the playful hi-hat and synth touches scattered throughout the jacking “Round Here”; Sollmann also enhances the richness of the material by drawing on an instrumentation palette that includes cello, zither, drums, organ, percussion, and synthesizer.

“Cowbell” inaugurates the album ear-catchingly, first capturing attention with the ring-a-ting of its cymbals and the heft of its kick drum and then sustaining it with vibes splashes that push its slinky, controlled micro-house pulse into a jazzier realm. “Shoeshine” digs deep into a tasty, bass-throbbing funk-house groove; the bass-thumping “Night Train” exudes all of the urgency and velocity one would expect from a track so titled; and blues, jazz, and house converge in “Oh My God” when acoustic piano playing adds to the tune's deep swing. Perhaps the album's most infectious and steamy cut, “There Will Be Singing” is the album's purest riff on Chicago- and Detroit-associated dance styles, whereas “Nothing Is Everything” ranges farthest outside those areas by tipping its hat to Chilean micro-house of Pier Bucci and Ricardo Villalobos.

Chicago is long—at nearly eighty minutes, arguably overlong (it doesn't help that the album's penultimate track, the meandering “Wonderland (The Race for Space),” is also the longest, and that an unnecessary reprise of “Oh My God” is tacked on at album's end)—, and its tracks can sometimes focus too much on atmosphere at the expense of melody; in such moments, the material can feel like background music, even if background music of high order. Still, if there's one word that describes Sollmann's impeccably crafted release, it's solid.

June 2010