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Efdemin - Chicago

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Artist: Efdemin

Album: Chicago

Label: Dial

Review date: Jun. 22, 2010

Of the three major artists associated with the Dial label, Efdemin is the slipperiest. The 10-year-old label’s classic albums, like Lawrence’s The Absence of Blight (2003) and Pantha du Prince’s This Bliss (2007), are self-contained, stylistically cohesive mood music that use dance beats to frame wistful melodies, conveying a dreamy vulnerability not usually found in clubs. A big part of the appeal is that they work as long-form, emotionally nuanced statements while never leaving the traditionally single-oriented field of house/techno. Efdemin’s self-titled 2007 debut straddles the same line, but isn’t as seamless an experience — it almost feels like a singles collection rather than a narrative album. As Efdemin, Berliner Phillip Sollmann displays a distinct excitement about starting over with each track, a fondness for the reset button that sets his work apart from the occasionally similar-sounding work of Pantha du Prince. Indeed, Sollmann studied computer music in Vienna before making dance music, and the improvisational energy of his debut feels like the product of someone doing exercises in style.

While Efdemin opens and closes with tracks that sound like a slightly dissonant, jazzy take on Pantha’s romanticism, small inconsistencies in tone between songs add up and make for a distinct and surprisingly confident experience. Rather than developing linearly, side-by-side high points "La Ratafia" and "Acid Bells" feel like microcosms or culs-de-sac. In contrast to Pantha’s symphonic scope and Lawrence’s gray ambiance, this approach makes for an album held together by momentum rather than a larger idea. He’s not telling a single, straightforward story, but creating small narrative arcs that have a collage-like effect. With Efdemin, he managed to create functional dance music — hewing close to Chicago and Detroit in a way that recalls the more formal tone of Sten (label founder Peter Kersten/Lawrence’s club alias) — with loads of atmosphere.

Chicago is a much different experience, and it further sets Efdemin apart from his peers. In a sense, it feels more uniform and somewhat restrained — no big, moving washes of sound or grand-scheme melodies. The surface of the music is carefully tended. Everything sounds incredibly crisp, like the architectural shot on the cover, but the space inside feels more real, in part due to the jazzy, live use of an organ, a zither, or curious vocal sample (including, maybe, a snippet from The Simpsons arcade game?) placed within a clean-cut production style. Efdemin’s means on Chicago may be expanded, and their use pared down, but even laid-back tracks like "Nothing Is Everything " bubble over with enough detail to sustain the attention of listeners outside the scene.

It’s significant that Dial’s recurring themes of winter, night, grayness and in-between states are largely lacking here. It’s an homage to Chicago house that doesn’t come off as recondite, overly studious, or pretentious, the kind of record you can jump into anywhere and get the same chill vibe. With Pantha du Prince defecting to Rough Trade and getting a larger audience while going deeper into his own frosty sound on Black Noise and Dial seemingly spinning its wheels on the underwhelming label compilation 2010, Chicago feels fresh and new. While it might be too controlled at points (the album’s more like a Chicago summer street observed from an air-conditioned room than the heat and people themselves), it embraces new textures and approaches without abandoning the personal feel of Dial’s best releases. It’s time for something more than melancholia from the label, and this is a promising start.

By Brandon Bussolini

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