- By this point in its history, reviewing Kompakt's latest Pop Ambient edition is kind of like discussing the newest Murakami novel. The brand's intact. The name's established. Fans are reaching for it at the shop regardless of reviews. The craft's always in tracking the slight digressions in terrain (and, if you're feeling sprightly, maybe in ranking your four or five favorites over hearty winter ales). Now in its eleventh installment, the Cologne label's beloved zone-out series returns with mostly exclusive cuts from old compatriots like Jörg Burger (Triola), Jens-Uwe Beyer, Thomas Fehlmann and label co-owners Wolfgang Voigt and Jürgen Paape.
But, if last year's tenth-anniversary edition was largely a class reunion indebted to the label's history, then this year's comp again finds Voigt infusing the series with new blood. Surrounding the input of those longstanding vets are productions by relative label newcomers like Ewan Pearson and October (as Bhutan Tiger Rescue), bvdub, Barnt of Kompakt's sub-label Magazine, and, perhaps most interestingly, Blixa Bargeld of German industrialists Einstürzende Neubauten teaming with Alva Noto as ANBB. It's an interesting meld—especially in how it undercuts the series' focus on escapist surface beauty, its chimes and its downy drifts, with darker, grittier passages tracing drone's mannered chaos. The result is, perhaps, one of the label's more intriguing efforts in recent years.
If winter surrounds the compilation's timing, it's best to start with the gloom. The compilation's only non-exclusive, ANBB's "Bersteinzimmer" opens the record in the mire, with somber strings, see-saw dissonance, and whispers bent on disorientation. If one of ambient music's strengths is its inherent cinematism, then it's hard not to hear this as the reduction of Jean-Jacques Annaud's goth-mystery, The Name of the Rose, into several minutes of dark, hymnal noise. Likewise, Crato turns in the excellent witches' cauldron drone of "30.6.1881." It's the kind of slightly rusty, post-rock typically associated with labels like Touch, Type or Barge. Though not as haunted, Wolfgang Voigt's "Ruckverzauberung 1" trades Crato's eerie creepscaping for a more elegant brand of midnight melancholia; its intersecting synth melodies crest from the speakers like waves in rhythmless surf.
Buoying up these depressive anthems, though, are cuts which recall the daydream sway the series was built on. Bhutan Tiger Rescue's aptly-titled "Beginner's Waltz" begins in a narcotized synth drawl, which slowly submerges beneath a bank of thorny dissonance. Both Mikkel Metal and bvdub return to the label with sleepy lullabies, the former with the starry-eyed drowse of "The Other Side of You," and the latter with another of his dizzying sample-symphonies in "Make the Pain Go Away." Perhaps more transfixing is Thomas Fehlmann's rendition of Mahler's first symphony. A solo version based around an October performance with parts of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Fehlmann muffles little of Mahler's grandiosity, instead twisting the piece into a gorgeous laser-light display. It's one of this edition's bold stop and listen moments, and a pretty captivating rejection of the Eno "as ignorable as it is interesting" premise that's always guided the series.
01. ANBB / Alva Noto & Blixa Bargeld - Bernsteinzimmer
02. Marsen Jules - Once in a Moment
03. Triola - Dunkelraum
04. Wolfgang Voigt - Rückverzauberung 1
05. Bhutan Tiger Rescue - Beginner's Waltz
06. Jürgen Paape - Ein Schöner Land
07. bvdub - Make the Pain Go Away
08. Crato - 30.6.1881
09. Barnt - Libretto
10. Mikkel Metal - The Other Side of You
11. Jens-Uwe Beyer - Volax
12. Thomas Fehlmann - Titan