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V/A - Pop Ambient 2011



Over more than a decade, Cologne-based label Kompakt has proved a solid brand in electronic music. Its early compilation releases, in both the Total and Pop Ambient series, were both an indicator for movements in the genre and a storehouse of forward-thinking electronica—from micro house and minimal techno to ambient music. In recent years, however, the Pop Ambient series has become more formulaic, featuring the same loose collection of artists that rarely take one’s breath away. Like its predecessors, Pop Ambient 2011 still shows current directions in ambient music. But this release is a mixed bag, and does little to combat perceptions of a growing restiveness or malaise in the genre.

Granted, Kompakt’s Pop Ambient 2011 features a few downright fantastic tracks. ANBB’s (Alva Noto and Blixa Bargeld) “Bernsteinzimmer” is demonstrative of the best in the genre. The track first builds as ethereal drones, light strings, and whispers, and then shocks the listener with the sudden inclusion of Blixa Bargeld’s commanding vocals. Far from mere background music or lightly touched natural themes, “Bernsteinzimmer” is a powerful and moving track—one whose melodic swells are meant to operate in the foreground. Just as captivating is Thomas Fehlmann’s “Titan,” a reinterpretation of Gustav Mahler’s first symphony. Instead of the intricacies and at times majesty of Mahler, Fehlmann’s interpretation is a slowly shifting, deeply textured ambient tour de force. Jurgen Paape’s mix of brass and other instrumentation make “Ein Schoner Land” a bold and powerful track. These three tracks are one and all excellent compositions, and are worth buying or downloading in their own right.

Then come the album’s other nine tracks, which range from mediocre to frustrating. bvdub’s “Make the Pain Away,” for instance, is overall pretty, but it has a cookie cutter feel that makes it neither an engaging nor stirring composition. The radio-like dronescape of Jens-Uwe Beyer’s “Volax,” too, fails to do justice to the genre, and falls short of more engaging recent creations by either Pausal or BJ Nilsen. On the more frustrating side, both Bhutan Tiger Rescue’s “Beginner’s Waltz” and Mikkel Metal’s “The Other Side of You” are too dreamy for their own good. While they were intended to be pleasing, both end up feeling rather grating to the ears.

In the end Pop Ambient 2011, like other compilations, is somewhat of a mixed bag. Enthusiasts of ambient music—the target audience—will find much to take from the album. While it does have a few fantastic, engaging tracks that will appeal to a broader audience, the other nine tracks rage from mediocre at best to downright bad at worst. Excluding the better tracks, a general lack of direction ensures that Pop Ambient 2011 will not live up to better recent releases in the field. 

Jeremy Yellen


Reader Comments (2)

This sounds appealing to me right now--I have a fairly high tolerance for mediocre ambient music as background texture, so I might even like the stuff you don't, at least to the point of it not offending my ears while I'm working...

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGustav Brown

Give it a shot. I'd be interested to hear whether you come to similar conclusions about the album.

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Yellen

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