- Pastoral auras, drifting clouds of sound, astral immensity—yep, it's time for another of Kompakt's annual Pop Ambient compilations, once again assembled by label co-founder Wolfgang Voigt. 2017's edition features the usual mix of veterans and newbies, and brims with infinitesimal resonances and grand gestures.
Anyone who's had much experience with Pop Ambient might feel a sense of déjà vu here, though that's not to say the series hasn't evolved over the years. The 2006 edition had sparser arrangements, while the tunefulness was a bit more direct—more emphasis on the "pop." That comp even has a cover version of Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie No. 1," which is basically the manual on how to make heartrending music with the fewest parts possible. But that theme—using a minimalist approach to create a maximalist effect—runs through every edition of Pop Ambient. These serene pulses and slowly unwinding melodies have been explored many times over.
Of course, Voigt's intention doesn't seem to be to break new ground. He succeeds at presenting beautiful music from the Kompakt family and friends. On his remix of Soulsavers' "Hal," he patiently layers luxurious strings over humming bass, as a poignant piano softly cuts through the vapor. The crackles, gentle dissonance and throbbing low-end of "Locus Solus," by Robin "Scanner" Rimbaud and Yui Onodera, evokes sunrise at the campfire. With a lonesome guitar and sparse arrangement, Max Würden's "Fernfeld" calls to mind a windswept prairie. On both of his contributions, Jens-Uwe Beyer's drifting synths and hovering melodies feel like a cosmic elegy, while Kenneth James Gibson's elegant "Her Flood Knocked Me To The Ground (But I Was Already There)" is perhaps best of all, merging soaring bliss to downcast sorrow.
Kompakt's recent box set for Voigt's Gas project is arguably the ne plus ultra of emotionally resonant ambient music from the past two decades. Its influence looms over Pop Ambient 2017, but this music can nonetheless be its own soundtrack for daydreaming. On that level, the series continues to be worthwhile, but if its reach was just a little wider, it could be even more.
01. Yui Onodera - Cromo2
02. Kenneth James Gibson - Her Flood Knocked Me To The Ground (But I Was Already There)
03. Soulsavers - Hal (Wolfgang Voigt Mix)
04. Scanner & Yui Onodera - Locus Solus
05. Jens-Uwe Beyer - Final 9.1
06. Max Würden - Fernfeld
07. Anton Kubikov - Dekka
08. Leandro Fresco - Sonido Español
09. Thore Pfeiffer - Good Life
10. Max Würden - 186.000 Miles Per Second
11. Leandro Fresco - El Abismo
12. Jens-Uwe Beyer - Final 10