Tech house, especially in its German form, is like the mythical many-headed Hydra. On one hand, it shows enduring resilience, especially following assaults from electro, minimal techno and the recent resurgence of deep house. But what it has in consistency, it seems to lose in specificity and diversity: At best, tech house is the soundtrack to redoubtable sweat-on-the-wall efficiency, but at worst, it serves as aural wallpaper to almost full self-effacement during the most mundane of cocktail-drinking social events.
For the past three years now, Mladen Solomun has been purveying us, both as a producer and as an A&R man via his Diynamic Music imprint, with his sleek and alluring take on the stuff. And while the switch to album format is still a mystifying proposition in the sub-genre, Solomun is clever enough to pepper the entire thing with enough hooks and surprises to fully justify the enterprise. There are moments on Dance Baby that feel eerily familiar… which is weird, considering Solomun has only included new material.
But that feeling comes from the fact that Solomun has mastered the tropes of tech house: the beats are crisp and clean, the bass lines are utilitarian and the melodies overtly simple. Obviously, having a mixture of jazzy vocal harmonies and African-like chants on album opener "Country Song" or to display a shameless deep house sense of community on "Cloud Dance" (with lyrics reminding us of the "good times" dance music can bring) might also appear slightly predictable, but they both bring versatility to a genre that is too often too dry.
More surprisingly, there is also—on tracks such as "Hypnotize," "Midnight Snack," and "After Rain Comes Sun"—a lot of strings, which makes the album verge towards disco aesthetics at times. "Deep Circus," on the other hand, has the kind of twisted pads the likes of LFO (circa 1991) and Claude Von Stroke (circa 2009) would not deny, while "Forever" is house-ier with creepy vocals. In the end, then, only "Deja-Vu" is tech house at its blandest and most predictable. And it's quickly forgotten in the wake of the absolutely brilliant "Story of My Life," a tune with clever vocal snippets, police sirens and street chatter, a gritty organ-like melody and, again, an overtly simple bassline. With a hint of sad resignation, it leaves the listener on an uplifting and optimistic note at the end of the album.
For a first venture in the ever-difficult long player format, Dance Baby is aptly titled: It is both a sultry imperative that fits the mood of the record perfectly and a humble affirmation that suggests, just like the album's coda, that the best from Solomun is surely yet to come.
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Tracklist: Solomun - Dance Baby 01. Country Song
02. Boys in the Hood
03. Cloud Dancer
05. After Rain Comes Sun
06. Midnight Snack
08. Deep Circus
11. Story of My Life
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