Various Artists | Pop Ambient

Kompakt (2010)
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  January 27, 2010
3.5 3.5 Stars


It'd be easy to understand a resistance to "ambient" music — beyond all of its unfortunate Enya and dusty Eno connotations. After all, its docile disinterest in the listener could easily be mistaken for aloofness. Whereas pop provides a solicitously directed journey from A to B, ambient typically radiates from an indifferently glowing center.

Rarely outside of Kompakt's esteemed Pop Ambient series do we find a judicious blend of each — the linear sonic narrative of pop channeled through the happenstance of ambient. It's like the musical equivalent to weather: less a vessel of time than a factor of it. When the Pop Ambient series is at its best (as here, on the 10th installment), listeners receive less a set of tracks than a set of conditions. The structural premise of most of the work here is gradually corrupting repetition (think William Basinki minus the vérité disintegration). And though it's hard to imagine a motif that sounds more synthetic, the highlights aspire toward the organic, and many succeed.

The Orb's "Glen Coe" sets astral twinkles atop a low, blinking bass line before being shot through with dashes of bright tremolo light. Triola's "Schildergasse" sounds like daybreak passed through an oscillator, its measured bed of bass absently teetering between its two perfect notes, Jan Jelinek–style. DJ Koze's "Bodenweich" elongates disembodied vocal harmonies over dry expanses before haunting his own halls with pianos lifted from an old Herbert track. Wolfgang Voigt's "Zither und Horn" could be one of the prettiest specimens in the series were it not for its unforgivable (and seemingly unintentional) high-frequency wheeze. Worth the purchase alone are the two companion pieces from Brock Van Wey: "Lest You Forget," a watery meditation of guitars, stray phonemes, and reverb, reverb, reverb, and "Will You Know Where To Find Me," a slowly diffusing vista of voices, chords, and downy static that does more to justify itself in 17 minutes than I possibly could in 325 words.

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