Though still composing the kind of breathy, open vista deep house associated with the city that lends the record its name, Chicago functions on a slightly wider narrative arc than Sollman's debut, further incorporating elements of minimalism, jazz and even, yes, prime mid-'00s microhouse into his textured sound. The result is an intimate and meticulous work that's sometimes slow to reveal its charms. Instruments like zither, organ, vocal shards, cello, flutes, pipes, both live and machine drums emerge in shady, half-formed patterns only to slip beneath the surface again, a quick poke of sound or melody in Sollmann's articulate whole.
In fact, if Efdemin was one of 2007's most artfully crafted LPs, it's hard not to hear Chicago as even more carefully structured and considered. It's a work of almost symphonic presence, and one, quite frankly, from which it might be hard to tease an effective standalone single. Each track's a minor phase or movement intimately linked with those around it. The twilight ease of the beautiful "Night Train"—with its slow, revolving shimmer—softening "Shoeshine"'s midnight clatter. The spacious, waltzing organ melody of "Oh My God" bleeding into the pattering hand drums and muffled vocal sample of "There Will Be Singing"'s soulful house. The cozy jazz of "Nothing Is Everything"—which sounds like Alice Coltrane crafting in house time—giving in to the heady throb and mesmerizing synth swirl of "Round Here." The slippery, hypnotic chimes of "Wonderland (The Race for Space)" leave a downy space for the dim ambient hush of closer "Oh My God (Reprise)."
But a fair word of warning: that patience—the sense of a work offered in sum instead of the accumulation of its parts—can also lead Chicago to feel impenetrable. Those seeking immediacy may struggle to find points of entry against Sollmann's tapestry approach. I've spent eight weeks now in its company, and I still find strange pockets of sound or rhythmic sidesteps that I'd failed to appreciate before: What sounds like a gasp of wind sampled within "Oh My God," the slight industrial groan beneath "Wonderland (The Race for Space)" or the jazzy organ peals sewn into "Cowbell"'s seams. Of course, these discoveries are precisely what makes Chicago such a headphone-lover's delight. It's full of sly corners, half-turns, sidewhows and, shit, even Bart Simpson samples. Perhaps Efdemin and Pantha du Prince are now doubly paired, both atop 2010.