Album Review: Various Artists – Pop Ambient 2016

Album Review: Various Artists – Pop Ambient 2016
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POP AMBIENT 2016 kompakt-are-readying-another-dose-of-downtempo-brilliance-on-pop-ambient-2016-body-image-1442328581
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Multi-artist albums are tricky in that both the artist and the curator merit review. POP AMBIENT 2016 – the latest edition of an annual compilation series that’s been spinning since 2001 – is such an album. Longstanding host to both heavy-hitters and emerging ambient artists, POP AMBIENT is well-regarded as a staunch and comprehensive representation of the current ambient music scene. This 12-song collection does more than present the music, though; it tells a story. Somewhere in the seamless track-to-track transitions are the mercurial first moments of wakefulness, and as POP AMBIENT unfolds, curator Wolfgang Voigt weaves a linear saga that carries us from the activity of the day back into the dream-filled quietude of an ambient night.  

Considering the effects of ambient music is different than most genres. Moods shift in rolling swathes of sound, evoking atmospheric imagery rather than the deliberate experiences of rhythm-based music structures. As Brian Eno wrote in the liner notes of Music for Airports: "Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." Each POP AMBIENT artist manipulates her/his atmosphere with unique nuance, and as such, each deserves to be digested singularly. Below we break down each track into modular morsels of the record's overarching narrative, hopefully whetting your appetite for the ambient depth that waits within…

  1. Stephan Mathieu – "April im Oktober"
    German electroacousticist Stephan Mathieu opens 2016 by summoning ethereal drums and washing them in waves of white noise, creating a luminous phantasm of sleep-provoking soundscapes. It is an idyllic inception to both the day and the POP AMBIENT experience.
  2. The Orb – "Alpine Dawn"
    Prolific and long-revered, The Orb need no introduction. The British duo pick up where Mathieu left off, giving his dream thoughts a narrative. An immense, throbbing blanket of sound supports a collage of wind, chimes and other transient snippets of real world moments waiting to fill the day.
  3. Anton Kubikov – “April”
    "April" is another step forward in the linear exploration of the record, moving us ever closer to wakefulness. A plodding piano note persists throughout the track as an ascending arpeggio climbs over the ambient background to head toward the sun.
  4. Max Wuerden – "Unterwasser"
    In “Unterwasser”, a subtly oscillating pulse drones through impossibly warm pads, like a pulsar spinning through the cosmos. Wuerden then takes us on a perfunctory tour through an old memory, replete with indistinct sonic voices and errant rays of light that shine incandescently beyond closed eyelids.
  5. Sicker Man & Gregor Schwellenbach – "Turns"
    A single guitar string plucked repeatedly opens “Turns”. Slowly it evolves into majestic landscapes of stringed synthesizers, guitar licks and terse organ runs that act as afterthoughts in this halcyon reverie – the final sweet moments of sleep’s light touch.
  6. Wuerden & Pfeiffer – "Feinharb"
    In “Feinherb” we hear the first dissonance on the record. Its unceasing metallic dialogue feels like the first pangs of responsibility in the dawn. The exchange wanders in and out of focus until finally culminating in an initial coherent idea.
  7. Mikkel Metal – “Titan”
    "Titan" is the torpidity of an early morning. Metal repeats a single motif over the course of seven minutes, gradually morphing its timbre from dulcet plod to dull razor gleam. Ultimately, everything fades into the ether.
  8. Dave DK – "Veira (Leandro Fresco Mix)"
    When we re-emerge from space, angelic pads and sparkling bells are there to greet us. A garbled, electronically processed human voice gently cleaves the celestial waves, repeating incessantly as the bells grow into the LP’s first steady beat. The voice eventually fades and we’re left with the rumbling beat and the day’s first moments of motivation.
  9. Wolfgang Voigt – "Rückverzauberung (Thore Pfeiffer Megamix)"
    Voigt picks a good time to include his own megamixed track. “Rückverzauberung” is filled with an unsteady thrum and an array of disparate sounds that traverse the frequency range; it’s a capricious approximation of all the experiences one might have throughout the day.
  10. Jens-Uwe Beyer – "The Bremen"
    In the wake of the activity, Beyer transitions into the dark allure of the night, layering together refreshingly original textures. Lush pads gradually overwhelm ghastly manipulations of the piano until everything falls into disarray. “The Bremen” is a brooding lullaby and one of the highlights of the record.
  11. Leandro Fresco – “Configuración De Ataque”
    Computerized blips and gusts of wind open Fresco’s “Configuración De Ataque”, like R2D2 walking the deserts of Tatooine toward an electric midnight. The cybernated sounds give way to a fingerpicked acoustic guitar that gradually emerges from the storms in this tender penultimate track.
  12. Thore Pfeiffer – "Idyll"
    “Idyll” is the last bit of energy gleaned from the mystery of the night. Rolling hills of sound sprawl across the expanse, crawling with amoebic explorers that are seeing the world in this shadowy glow for the very first time. It is the last of the day’s adventures, and it looks toward the future musings of POP AMBIENT 2017. A fine finale to an excellently curated collection of ambience.
Review Date
Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2016
Album Review · Ambient


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