If last year's edition of Kompakt's annual Pop Ambient series found the label swapping out many of the names that had helped them build the popular brand for newbies like Sylvain Chaveau, Tim Hecker and the great mopey-drone duo The Fun Years—and in turn presenting arguably the series' most organic and neo-classical set to date—Pop Ambient 2010 reveals a 180-degree shift in thinking. Marking the compilation's tenth-anniversary edition, curator Wolfgang Voigt returns with many of his old friends in tow. Featuring productions from Voigt himself, his Burger/Ink partner Jörg Burger (under his Triola guise), The Orb, and the long-absent Dettinger, the installment will no doubt appeal to the fans who salivate at each year's turn for the Cologne brand's take on downy, wintry mood-pieces even as it fails to really indicate the slightest potential for future direction.
In terms of its party-hat intent as a celebration of the series' history, most Pop Ambient followers will likely head first to the contributions of the label vets. Voigt himself turns in a beautiful piece of country-field guitar ambience in "Zither Und Horn"—slowed in pace to resemble a sleepdead waltz with none of his Gas-sy throb—while Jörg Burger's turn as Triola, "Schildergasse" twinkles in near-silence, slowly emerging from sleep in first morning rain. But in the first production for Kompakt for the first time since 2000, Dettinger's "Therefore" surrounds its pink-horizon synth pulses with clattering metallic percussive bits, a dead clamor that plays out in one endless loop, never achieving new vistas or depths. Both Marsen Jules' "The Sound of One Lip Kissing" and The Orb's "Glen Coe" are arguably even less successful, the latter merely cushioning its vocal samples with slow ringing guitars and distant chimes. All three settle for inert daze, giving into ambient music's worst instincts for sleep-the-day-away prettiness with nothing novel to lure the listener back again.
Fortunately, not all of the compilation's artists retreat to superficial appeal. For those disappointed by many of the efforts to link to Kompakt's past, you may want to focus on label rook Brock Van Wey/bvdub's presence, especially after last year's epic White Clouds Drift On and On. Turning in not one but two tracks—the serene intertwined vocal-n-guitar echoes of "Lest You Forget" and the rippling long-form recline of seventeen-minute closer "Will You Know Where To Find Me"—Van Wey's productions evolve even as they soothe, slowly unspooling new elements and sounds from within their warm-bed coziness until they barely resemble the soft glow with which they began.
Of course, leave it to Kompakt-fave DJ Koze to provide the record's oddest, most deranged inclusion. "Bodenweich" begins with a two-part bass stab and a voice manipulated to sound like the freeway-whine of a passing car before devolving into quiet piano samples and a saxophone stretched to violin pitch. Serving as another of Koze's bewildering contortions of sound, it's precisely the kind of disorienting experimentation at untraditional "ambience" that detractors of the series have complained are usually lacking. But if it's all alone here, maybe you can't really fault Kompakt. Pop Ambient 2010 celebrates the series' decade-run in comfortable fashion—old friends still living at their old addresses. If we can forgive that under the circumstances, we can also still wonder how long the series can continue to keep even its long-term devotees interested. Eventually, we might have to get out there and meet some new people.
Buy Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2010 at
Tracklist: Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2010 01. Marsen Jules - The Sound Of One Lip Kissing
02. bvdub - Lest You Forget
03. Triola - Schildergasse
04. Wolfgang Voigt - Zither Und Horn
05. Andrew Thomas - Clouds Across Face
06. The Orb - Glen Coe
07. Mikkel Metal - Blue Items
08. DJ Koze - Bodenweich
09. Jurgen Paape - 864M
10. Dettinger - Therefore
11. Thomas Fehlmann - In the Wind
12. Popnoname - Deutz Air
13. bvdub - Will You Know Where To Find Me
Other Kompakt reviews