- Gas is a side project of Wolfgang Voigt's that became his career-defining work. Inspired by childhood trips into the forest (and a subsequent LSD experience as a teenager in the Königsforst, near Cologne), the ambient techno of Gas is among the German artist's most personal music. It's also his most elusive. The deep drones, thrumming kick drums and snatches of classical music are as dense and mysterious as the forests that inspired them. By the time of 2000's Pop, Voigt had perfected his ambient techno formula and then left the project alone, as though there was nothing more to be said. In 2008, a retrospective box set, Nah Und Fern, all but confirmed that. (Another compilation, Box, was released last year.) Nah Und Fern presented Voigt's four Gas albums as a package with a beginning and an end. But the story wasn't over. Voigt now returns with Narkopop, the first Gas album in 17 years.
The return of Gas can't help but feel momentous—albums like Pop and Königsforst aren't so much records as techno monuments. As "Narkopop 1" hisses out of your speakers it evokes familiar feelings, but some things have changed. Where the smudged loops of Pop felt like the product of Voigt's private thoughts, he exercises less control over Narkopop's melodies. Instead of looping clips into hypnotic reveries, he lets the orchestral samples play out and unfurl above his thumping kick drums, fostering a straightforwardness that feels new for Gas.
On Narkopop, the orchestral samples sometimes sound heavily manipulated. Other times, they seem naked, like on "Narkopop 8"'s blustery melodies or the springtime overtures of "Narkopop 3" (which bears a surprising resemblance to The Verve's late '90s work). As a result, the melodies are more obvious and some of the allure is lost. Narkopop has explicit classical music elements—on previous Gas records, that same music was a shadow.
But Voigt's new approach leads to some stunning moments. "Narkopop 6" features gorgeous strings, ebbing and flowing like a Stars Of The Lid record. Full of the same enveloping ambience as previous Gas records, "Narkopop 6" could be compared to hearing an orchestra deep in the forest. The album ends with a 17-minute odyssey, "Narkopop 10," as fathoms-deep as any other Gas masterpiece. Horns appear a few times on Narkopop, which add warmth to Voigt's tapestry. On "Narkopop 05," they sound mournful, over a kick drum so austere that it could be a recording of a military marching band, a neat twist on Gas's signature solemnity.
The album's more direct style has its faults. The second track fumbles with its melodies to the point where it feels like the kick drums are moving at a different speed to the rest of the track. In this sharper relief, you can see the stitches in Voigt's usually seamless work. The LP's wandering focus means it's not always as meditative as we've come to expect, but such moments are rare on an album that contains some of Voigt's best work.
Whatever the differences on Narkopop, the album is remarkably true to the project's past: this is music that takes inspiration from childhood memories, bygone eras and the natural world. The results can feel like another dimension, but the album is also intensely personal. When you think of it that way, it's unsurprising that Voigt was able to capture Gas's appeal so long after his last album. When you create a world as singular as his, it's hard to forget it.
01. Narkopop 1
02. Narkopop 2
03. Narkopop 3
04. Narkopop 4
05. Narkopop 5
06. Narkopop 6
07. Narkopop 7
08. Narkopop 8
09. Narkopop 9
10. Narkopop 10
11. Narkopop 11