Pop Ambient 2007

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  • Falling leaves, log fires, mittens and ‘Pop Ambient’ releases all signal the coming pleasures of winter. Each year the familiar chimes, bells, gaseous clouds and falling rain reveal the cosier regions of electronic music - each year different but same. Unlike Kompakt's annual ‘Total’ collections, which function as barometers of techno's fickle tastes, no one seems concerned with updating ambient music; rather, the same successful strategies are reused year after year. The inclusion of Erik Satie's 1888 composition ‘Gymnopedie No. 1’, almost untouched, on last year's collection is testament to the genre's stasis. Indeed, Satie's directionless modal harmonies, simple rhythmic devices, repetition and lack of resolution are all key features of contemporary ambient music. The 'Pop' relates, perhaps, to a fondness for the brighter hues of pop music than those found on Brian Eno's ambient cornerstones, but all seven ‘Pop Ambient’ volumes have adhered to Eno's definition of ambient music being 'as ignorable as it is interesting.' That Kompakt, or rather founding father Wolfgang Voigt, is content to plough old turf is evidenced, again, by the lazy inclusion of a previously issued Gas track. Fortunately ‘Nach 1912’ is outstanding, and being rare will be unknown to most listeners. Cushioned kick drums pad their way through walls of Wagnerian fog while traces of melody fight their way to the surface, battling rain, sleet and sunburnt age. 2007 sees drums making their strongest appearance to date: Triola, Thomas Fehlmann and The Field all punctuate their clouds with cotton-wool kicks. The Field's Kaapsta takes the trance of ‘Under the Ice’ further underwater, bleaching all hints of edge, while Fehlmann adds traces of Eastern instrumentation to his flowing pads. Klimek and Ulf Lohmann turn in predictable performances, Klimek sending sparse guitar passages through familiar flickering processors on ‘Ruined in a Day (Buenos Aires)’, while Lohmann slackly updates an old standard with ‘Lai King Est’. ‘Altocumulus Opacus’ finds Markus Guentner mixing spectral chimes with suitably atmospheric drones, the flowing mass of Andrew Thomas' ‘I am Here Where are You’ is similarly elusive and beautiful, while Popnoname's opener ‘Hafen’ offers the most bleakly monochromatic work in the series, more Thomas Koner industrial hiss than the warm welcome we're used to. So no surprises apart from the bass drums, and without Pass into Silence, no sudden throwbacks to the 1990s. City Centre Offices' Marsen Jules provides the most confronting moment with repeated, shuddering synth loops which jar somewhat, but otherwise this is a predictably enjoyable collection comparable to all previous volumes.