- Another year, another Pop Ambient. You either say this with indifference or with glee and a dreamy smile. To fans, new volumes don’t come around often enough; they’re a contemplative haven from the often fickle and revved up world of clubland and its pretensions. To detractors, the series is the epitome of cozy safeness, drifting in its own zone of contemplative sadness with a perennial sameness. The ten producers in this year’s edition, for example, have all made tracks for Pop Ambient before (The ever underrated Markus Guentner has even contributed to every issue to date.) The covers in the series are always safely the same, too: a single color and abstract flowers designed by Wolfgang Voigt.
But in the end, only the most cold hearted could see this unity as a weakness. Voigt’s artwork somehow binds itself to the atmosphere of each release, and while the tracks might not always push at the frontiers of either pop or ambient, Pop Ambient as a whole is all about variation over time: a stable of producers changing their sound with the same subtle slowness as the genre itself. Markus Guentner is again the best example, presenting here two shorter and direct pieces, both wildly different from his more poetic and patiently evolving epics on previous compilations.
Like its whitened cover, Pop Ambient 2008 is plainer than past volumes, offering brightly droning simplicity in place of complicated arrangements or rich embellishments. Guentner’s ‘Oceans Day’ sounds white even, recalling US space rockers Windy and Carl with ricocheting guitar chords that cascade over a thickening and deepening drone. Wolfgang Voigt’s ‘Sag Alles AB’ (which translates as ‘cancel everything’) is again like a silvery monolithic drone, this time textured into a reflective mosaic surface. On the downside, DJ Koze’s gently swaying ‘Nymphe und Schäfer’ is so simple that it loses momentum, before Axel Willner wins it back again with ‘Kappsta 2’, one of The Field’s trademark fractured vocal pieces. But surprisingly, this too is more smoothed over than many of the tracks on From Here We Go Sublime.
And like the flowers on its cover, Pop Ambient is organic too. Andrew Thomas’ crystalline and spacious ‘Shiny Garden’ sprouts from the seeds of his previous Fearsome Jewel tracks, while Thomas Fehlmann ‘Camilla’, the track with the strongest beat and the most humour, is more suggestive of the shiny, plastic world of pop than ambient. Equally pop is Triola’s ‘In Loudres’, which has piano stabs and gently unfolding, naïve melodies that are like petals opening to face the sun.
The best tracks, though, are in the middle section. Ulf Lohmann’s ‘My Pazifik’ is one of the simplest and most engaging cuts, and Popnoname’s ‘Fambria’. Both are washed along in the same white undertow as the opening tracks, but they thicken their dense, sliding drones with keening strings to create the album’s most melancholy moments.
More of the same, yes, but still good. Fans of the series will not be disappointed, whereas newcomers may not be entirely won over.
01 Markus Guentner - Oceans Day
02 All - Sag Alles Ab
03 Triola - In Lourdes
04 Andrew Thomas - Shiny Garden
05 Thomas Fehlmann - Camilla
06 Ulf Lohmann - My Pazifik
07 Klimek - The Ice Storm
08 Popnoname - Fembria
09 DJ Koze - Nymphe Und Schäfer
10 The Field - Kappsta 2
11 Ulf Lohmann - Kristall
12 Markus Guentner - Sparks