Review : Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2012 by Andrew Gaerig
PitchforkWhat's left to say about the Pop Ambient series? That it appears every winter? Check. That it has become a bit of a chore? Done. That shifts in its tone and content are subtle? Been there. That it rarely breaks artists of note? Got it. It has become difficult to tease differences out of the series as its chapters have grown voluminous, and I'll submit that the real question we need to ask about the Pop Ambient series is not what remains unsaid but what the series itself has left to say. Pop Ambient 2012 arrives at a time when ambient and experimental artists routinely sing for their supper, offering theoretical frameworks and positioning their works as commentaries on music, media, and memory.
The goals of the PA series and its artists are largely sonic, bridging the gaps, however tenuously, between electronic music, modern classical, and pop. The series' flower motif suggests a kinship with Erik Satie's concept of furniture music, or music explicitly intended for the background. Gorgeous soundtracking is a fair, modest goal of ambient composers, but music of this ilk-- from Leyland Kirby (and his Caretaker alias) to Emeralds to Oneohtrix Point Never-- has felt so vibrant and rich in recent years that the offerings here seem slight. Stop me if you've heard this one before: PA12 contains another new Wolfgang Voigt side project (Mohn, with Jörg Burger), a Kompakt techno stalwart making his first-ever series contribution (Superpitcher), and notable outsiders (Simon Scott). Intrigued? Which volume of the series did you pull off the shelf to listen to in anticipation of these revelations?
Forgive the cynicism. The failure of PA12 has little to do with the individual tracks, most of which could, at worst, be harmlessly swapped out for the third-most-forgettable offering on any given PA compilation. There are highlights, as always: the beautiful simplicity of the piano that steers Superpitcher's "Jackson"; Wolfgang Voigt's ruptured, surprising orchestrations on "Rückverzauberung 5". Five years after lighting up PA07 with the Field's "Kappsta", Axel Wilner debuts his new guise, Loops of Your Heart, whose "Riding the Bikes" closes PA12 with lacy, somnambulent guitar. (In other words, the only new standout on PA12 is the alias of an artist who has already released three full-lengths for Kompakt.) There are more obvious missteps than in previous years, though. On "Richmodis", Triola masses clanging minor chords into a long, useless noir. Mohn's comp-opening offering, "Manifesto", is not just slow and ringing but comically ponderous. Magazine's self-edit of "The Visitors Bureau" is pro-forma symphonic drift....full text
EverythingischemicalEleven years ago, Kompakt's Pop Ambient series became an outlet of innovation for a label still shaping its own sonic thumbprint. A fruitful origin as the showcase of Kompakt's rich possibilities garnered the compilation much acclaim, but over the years, as common with releases of such nature, a veil of static devotion has shadowed Pop Ambient's name. Though the series has propelled the label and artists like The Field to the foreground of electronic music, those who call Pop Ambient home like Wolfgang Voigt (Gas), Jörg Burger (Triola), and Aksel Schaufler (Superpitcher) have seen their annual contributions fall to now old habits.
In the opening tones of 'Pop Ambient 2012', echos of Wolfgang Voigt's trademark soundscape already arise. Its bleakness fabricated by orchestral samples diffused in a hiss of decay continues into the next track, Superpitcher's “Jackson,” where a glacial three-note melody overplays a voice faintly stretching in the background. As the song progresses, a flowing piano line eclipses the cold electronics, unearthing a bright harmony. On Morek's “Pan,” clipped keyboards blended in a collective of droning strings retains this colorful atmosphere. Even though it slowly grows throughout the album, the taste of more direct and structured compositions only flowers on Voigt's second contribution, “Rückverzauberung 5.” The song's swinging strings, tumbling vibraphones, echoing pianos, and glistening harps forge an eerie melody that sounds like an orchestra floating in some boundless space, a symphonic odyssey ripped straight out of The Shining.
Unfortunately “Rückverzauberung 5” resonates as the sole track on here with a clarity of vision. Every other song is just a mere glimpse to the hybrid between classical instrumentation and ethereal ambience Pop Ambient has been nearing over the past decade. And they're glimpses that only make the listener beg for more. Not to say this year's edition won't satisfy the casual listener; just don't expect much that Kompakt hasn't already thrown our way....full text
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