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"Pop Ambient 2014"

Release date: 27 January 2014
Various Artists – Kompakt Pop Ambient 2014
31 January 2014, 13:30 Written by David Tate

A regular fixture in the electronic music calendar, Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series is now on its 14th iteration. Despite those 14 years, and much of the world around them, little has changed in format, style or approach. From its distinctive floral album covers to the roster of artists, Pop Ambient has stood proudly unaffected by trends or fads and remained stoic in the pursuit of its vision. As with most of the cologne labels output, the icy intimacy of sparse, granular textures is tempered somewhat by an underlying warmth.

It takes until after the crystalline textures of Ulf Lohmann’s opener (marking his return after a six year absence) and the crackling piano of Thomas Fehlmann for the first trace of rhythm to appear. The foggy guitar and scattershot percussion of Mikkel Metal is backed by a kick drum pulsating insidiously like the track has been recorded in the atrium of some dying heart. Simon Scott delivers album highlight, “FŸr Betty”, on which the wailing vocals provide an oddly affecting quality and a vitality missing from a lot of tracks on the compilation.

Undoubtably though, the marquee release for this compilation is the return of Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS moniker, which hasn’t made an appearance since 2008′s excellent POP. Remixing The Field’s “Cupid’s Head”, the song promises a lot but unfortunately fails to live up to such lofty expectations that comes with the two heavyweight names. Stripped of its oscillating techno beat, there is little in the way of progression and the track fizzes to nowhere for its 10 min runtime. A rather inauspicious return for an act that spawned so many imitators.

Elsewhere on the compilation, kraut supergroup Cologne Tape provides a lo-fi shuffled dreamscape. Consisting of numerous Kompakt related artists including Axel Wilner, Jens-Uwe Beyer, Jšrg Burger, John Harten, Daniel Ansorge , Michaela Dippel and Volker Pannes, this relatively short track marks a pleasant respite from the monolithic soundscapes surrounding it.

Aesthetically, each of these tracks come from a very similar place. Glacial, electronic and pristine. Unlike last year’s excellent I Am The Centre, released by Light In The Attic, there is little in the way of variety. Each track features the same, or very similar, hall reverbs and granular delays, meaning there is little distinction between tracks and seemingly this has been a problem plaguing the series for a while now. Not since The Field in 2007 has there been much in the way a particularly noteworthy track. Instead the albums play out as something to soundtrack meditative thought, and ultimately this is far from the best edition of the series. It would appear that the desire to remain in stasis has left it to stagnate somewhat, which is a shame, as Kompakt remains one of the most invigorating labels in electronic music.

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