It’s taken years for Paul Kominek to release his first full-length as Pawel. Then again, he doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy bothered by time constraints. His DJing career began in Germany in the mid-1990s, he started releasing music as Turner in 1997, and his real commitment came into focus when he helped create Hamburg’s Dial label in 2000. The founders (Kominek, Carsten Jost and Peter Kersten, a.k.a. Lawrence) have always focused on the minimal techno they loved, but until now the press plaudits have gone mostly to Lawrence, Phillip Sollman’s Efdemin moniker, and Hendrik Weber as Pantha du Prince. Though Weber has taken his pop prowess over to Rough Trade, Pawel fills the label’s gap for a more colorful future.
Dial has always played in deep snow under slate grey skies, but there’s more going on with this record than moody, monochromatic techno exercises. Kominek marries the ghost chimes and gloomy sighs of his label’s flagship acts with the brighter bounce of the Kompakt stable (Dial’s distributor) or Detroit stalwart Matthew Dear. Take opener “Panamerican,” for instance, which rises and falls on a lively loop more reminiscent of Matias Aguayo’s recent Ay Ay Ay than anything Efdemin’s done. It’s a bishop’s gambit, perhaps unintentional, that threw me off balance immediately.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, if you read our recent Listed feature, which is a great reference point; Kominek displays the two main facets of his sound in the records he chose. There are the selections you’d expect if you’ve spent much time with the Dial back catalog or heard Pawel’s beautiful finale, “Wasting My Time.” Then there are the albums he mentions that suggest a brighter beat, David Thomas Broughton, DJ Sneak and Aguayo. These less minimal influences come out in the playful “Coke” and the appropriately titled mid-album thump of “Muscles,” the sturdiest beat on the album.
Unlike other Dial artists who tend to emphasize the dark over the light in their chiaroscuros, Kominek weaves them in and out of one another throughout the album. Pawel is at its best when they’re in sync — like Weber, Kominek is using vocals here for the first time since his Turner days, and it’s no coincidence that the most resonant moments of the album incorporate the human voice: Both “Dawn” and the aforementioned “Wasting My Time” are exceptional without being obviously out of place. It’s a testament to Kominek that he’s taken his time in releasing this. The reward is that Pawel now proudly takes its place among Dial’s most surprisings and enjoyable albums.