Various Artists
Pop Ambient 2005
Kompakt
2004
C+



in the years since Music for Airports, Ambient music has naturally evolved. In the late 80s and early 90s, the heydays of rave culture, Ambient music became a necessity, an escape from the endless hours of house music. Many clubs and parties made an effort to provide such an escape, usually in the form of a 'chill-out' room where, it was intended, a relative calm could be induced. Early Ambient DJs such as Mixmaster Morris led the way, continuously redefining and broadening its horizons as they went. As the scene grew, a new wave of producers emerged, bringing with them their own updated interpretation of Eno's environmental tint.

Some of the music released during this period now sounds terribly dated, however, relying as it does on overly familiar textbook samples and sounds. There are many exceptions—classics of the genre such as The Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works volumes, Biosphere's frozen, still soundscapes and The Orbs' Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld. Quite remarkably, The Orb are still alive and well, very well in fact, and Kompakt's latest Pop Ambient installment opens with "Falkenbrück", one of its best, and unfortunately shortest, tracks. It's been quite a while since I've paid The Orb much heed, having lost and never quite regained interest in them following the release of Pomme Fritz, so my expectations were not very high. Still, I'm delighted to say that "Falkenbrück" is a dense, gorgeous and lush piece of music, and a beautiful start to 2005. Its elements are scant but incredibly well chosen: thirty seconds in, a huge warmth washes over the track, joined by a simple yet stunningly effective collection of processed guitar chords. The track is just over three and a half minutes in length, far from Eno's idea of 'continuous' and nowhere near long enough to fully immerse yourself in it. But it does stand as proof that Paterson can still deliver the goods.

The mood set by The Orb is maintained and subtly built upon by the following tracks. Markus Guentner's "Innenfeld" is almost twice as long as the opener and therefore unravels itself at a much slower pace. The track is anchored by an unbroken, gently oscillating drone that grows in weight and volume as the track progresses. This continues until, nearing the end, it and the accompanying slow shuffle and plaintive melody all begin to disintegrate and fade.

Wolfgang Voigt is up next with his Gas project. Those familiar with his work, particularly the Königsforst or Pop albums, will neither be surprised nor disappointed by his effort here. It's not a million miles away in either form or function from the previous two tracks, using a gradually evolving symphonic drone to slowly propel itself through its course. Attention to detail is what this music's all about, at least from a producer’s point of view, and Voigt is to be commended for his. The track has no rhythm as such, but is underpinned by an aquatic, digital flutter and an occasional slow, muted cymbal crash. It's in no rush whatsoever to go anywhere and is all the better for it. Eno would approve, I think, as this is indeed "music to swim in, [and] get lost inside".

Triola's "Mondlied" and Pass Into Silence's "Blue" are two of the weaker efforts on the album. The latter in particular fails to ignite or inspire, sounding tacky and dated. It's Ambient by the numbers and its slowed down 4/4 preset and awful, icy melody shouldn't fool anybody. Maybe this is Kompakt's attempt at bringing the pop back to Pop Ambient, but I'd rather re-christen the collection Ambient and simply make do without. Best forgotten or, if possible, avoided.

Things pick up quickly though with the subtly shifting cathedral-organ-drone and high-pitched sinewaves of Popnoname's "Gold" and, in particular, Dj Koze's "Hummel". "Hummel" has the prerequisite, all-engulfing drone in the background but what really sets it apart is the gentle guitar strumming, or at least what sounds like it once used to be gentle guitar strumming, before it was sampled, chopped up and put back together again in the wrong order. It's repetitive, yet still manages to maintain a random quality, as if it's going to trip over itself at any moment. The following few tracks are less dense than those that have gone before, and two in particular, Andrew Thomas' "Soft Bullets" and Klimek's "Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death" remind me of the clarity, precision and purity of Donnacha Costello's Together Is The New Alone album, which is no bad thing.

Pop Ambient 2005 started well and ends well, with Thomas Fehlmann's "With Oil." The track is initially quite a dark one, moving slowly through the lower registers of the audio scale, but beauty and light gradually begin to emerge as the tones climb and some digital chimes begin to blow about in the background. It’s quite an epic piece, but seems rushed at times, as if it could have done with an extra few minutes. It's not alone in this respect, and I think the format of this album and indeed the entire Pop Ambient series is its greatest weakness. Ambient music, whether you adhere to Eno's manifesto or not, is all about time. The music should move slowly, temporal concerns should dissolve and you should feel a sort of uninterrupted stillness. This might be better achieved in the future by allowing someone to creatively mix the tracks, essentially creating a single track, a continuous soundtrack for your environment. Despite this, as a collection, Pop Ambient 2005 can hold its head up high and walk proud with the rest of the series and the vast majority of the Kompakt catalogue.



Reviewed by: Simon Walsh
Reviewed on: 2005-01-10
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