The joy of techno is in its immediacy, its concentration of pop music's most visceral moments onto great galloping grids. Ambient music functions similarly, trading ecstatic action for ecstatic stasis, but it's equally direct and uncompromising. Successful ambient music is also about dichotomies, of the darkness below the surface, and being "as ignorable as it is interesting," as Brian Eno once put it. Kompakt's Pop Ambient series has long recognised this balance, and it's what keeps them from the scented candle store.
Due to the abiding nature of Pop Ambient releases (same names, same sounds year-in-year-out) discussing their merits is much like discussing which direction a particular instalment tilts, and at times 2009 dips dangerously close to drowning in dread (perhaps hinted at in the black cover, a contrast with 2008's white). And with new artists replacing old—goodbye Markus Guentner and Ulf Lohmann, hello Tim Hecker and Sylvain Chauveau—devoted fans may feel slighted. Fittingly, this too balances out: French neo-classicist Chauveau's two anodyne pieces are offset by the growling blizzard of Hecker's stunning "Shosts," the respective "softest" and "hardest" works on this set.
The remainder sit comfortably between these poles. Klimek again opens things, this time with gusts of brass which evoke the breezy foghorns of exotica merchant Arthur Lyman. The sleepy chords of Marsen Jules's "It's Only Castles Burning" exist only as echoes, while Andrew Thomas's "I Dream of a Spider" is as frail and flimsy as a cobweb. Jürgen Paape's "Ausklang" becomes falling water, reversed samples and heartbreak in Burger/Voigt's hands, while their own "Frieden" offers the album's only hint of rhythm—all half-step cottonball thunk and gurgling aquatic pads.
The highlight comes from Wolfgang Voigt's Mint, a revived alias used here to investigate the ghostly timbres of a recording of a composition by Paul Hindemith. A fragile piano riff loops and warbles, overwhelmed by its own shadow, pitched-down woodwinds creating equally unstable drones, all hidden beneath modulating piles of shellac static. Meanwhile, Klimek returns with Husak for closer "The Godfather (For William Basinski and Snoop Dogg)," in which threads of resonant guitar chime and crack into gloomy granular fragments, offering the most unsettling conclusion to an installment yet. Bleak these moments may be, but they ensure that Pop Ambient 2009 is among the label's more interesting ignorable albums.
Tracklist: Various Artists - Pop Ambient 200901. Klimek - True Enemies & False Friends (Yesteryears Suite)
02. Sylvain Chauveau - Nuage Iii
03. Mint - Hindemith
04. Popnoname - Nightliner
05. Sylvain Chauveau - Fly Like a Horse
06. Jürgen Paape - Ausklang (Burger/Voigt Mix)
07. Marsen Jules - It's Only Castles Burning
08. Tim Hecker - Shosts
09. Andrew Thomas - A Dream of a Spider
10. Burger/Voigt - Frieden
11. The Fun Years - I Am Speaking Through Barbara
12. Klimek and Husak - The Godfather (For William Basinski & Snoop Dogg)
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