VA: Pop Ambient 2013

Could Kompakt possibly add anything new to a Pop Ambient series that's been making annual appearances since 2001? The 2013 installment clearly answers in the affirmative, with details alone suggesting as much. It's the first time Kompakt co-founder Michael Mayer has ever appeared in the series, plus there's a contribution from Matias Aguayo and Jörg Burger under the Terrapin name (and their track a Pink Floyd cover, of all things) and two tracks by Argentinean Leandro Fresco, who hasn't appeared in the series since 2002. More critically, the collection includes moments of real beauty that suggests the project isn't just spinning its wheels but in its subtle way is continuing to refine its melodic ambient style.

Many pieces on the new collection are slow, melancholy, melodically absorbing, and tailor-made to induce reflection. The becalmed mood of the initial pieces gradually darkens as the compilation progresses, and beats are almost wholly absent, though they do conspicuously appear in Mikkel Metal's “Recombination,” which oozes a kind of slow and curdling dub-techno death-knell. Fresco contributes two fine pieces, the opener “Cuando El Sol Grita La Manaña,” a deep and peaceful reverie whose soothing character offers a refreshing respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life, and “El Cruce Imposible,” an exercise in New Age-styled serenity. Mayer is represented by a gently glistening remix of “Sully” (the opening track from his recent Mantasy album) by series curator Wolfgang Voigt that purrs as serenely as anything else on the compilation. The intensity level is pitched way down, so much so that when dramatic punctuations arise during the fifth setting, Marsen Jules' “Point of No Return,” the now-becalmed listener is startled by the sudden shift in dynamics.

With waves crashing outside its fading mansion's walls, Anton Kubikov's “Ambianopolis” exudes a haunted quality, especially when its moody piano themes are enshrouded in mist and reverb. The most orchestral of the pieces is Wolfgang Voigt's “Rückverzauberung 7,” which underlays oboe, horns, strings, and flute expressions with a roiling drone to almost psychotropic effect. Terrapin's “Cirrus Minor” (from Pink Floyd's 1969 soundtrack to the film More) provides one final surprise in being the only song to feature vocals, in this case ones that closely resemble the vocal style of Syd Barrett-era Floyd. In addition, there's Jens-Uwe Beyer's (aka Popnoname) “Deutz Air 2,”  a melancholy church organ rumination, and Triola's gently evocative reverie “Jean Vigo” (the influential French director who died at 29 after completing l'Atalante in 1934). The Pop Ambient devotee armed with every one of the previous installments might reasonably wonder if anything might be gained by acquiring the new one. Given that every one of its pieces has something to recommend it, the 2013 model clearly indicates that it would be very much in said devotee's best interest to make room for at least one more addition.

February 2013