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V/A - Pop Ambient 2004

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Artist: V/A

Album: Pop Ambient 2004

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Mar. 18, 2004

Ambient's demeanour (at best) - a music that can, simultaneously, slide away into the background, and grip your attention completely. Given Kompakt's ability to comprehensively nail any genre they touch (note to self: perhaps not neo-trance), that they should both a) pioneer the field and b) hinge this relationship to other forms and formulas makes sense. Consider the Pop Ambient series as the after-hours reparations for the post-Kompakt klub demographic, the soft burr after the sandpaper rasp of shuffle-tech's most virulent genes, the downtime captured after the ever-changing same of the Cologne techno plateau. (Never mind mentioning MicroHouse.)

Of course, this has been Wolfgang Voigt’s world for too many years. If there ever were a distinct template for the Pop Ambient series (beyond loose conflation within a post-Eno ambient continuum – ECM and all), it was Voigt’s four albums under the Gas moniker. Released on Mille Plateaux, at a time when being released on Mille Plateaux might have meant something (now the Mille Plateaux insignia just signifies Deleuze and Guattarian praxis inverted, formalised into rigid, ossified structures), there was something lush and Romantic about Voigt’s ambient ploy. Loops drawn from Berg and Wagner tugged at each other’s heart-strings, full of radiant, gorgeously low-lit sound. That the final record in the series was titled Pop was Voigt’s subtle acknowledgment of source and resource, for this was ambient music that evoked the same elation as the best pop music.

Pop Ambient 2004 is the fourth volume in the series. There’s a threat within these kinds of serial compilations that initial intent is watered down: the ‘trademark’ allows for such a small window of exploration to be opened that the music ends up hermetically sealed, unable to engage with any outside dialogue (witness Clicks and Cuts.) But as Kompakt’s Total series has begun to suffer from said diminishing-returns (the fifth volume being the weakest so far), Pop Ambient 2004 is as strong as ever. Give or take the odd saccharine moment (Pass Into Silence’s “Sakura” passes ‘moist’ to become dripping wet, a salty-teared lagoon of cheesy toy-box epiphany), the Pop Ambient on display is a revolving door: softly worn sound, bliss re-routed through tenderly wrought generative systems, guitars and tone-weft in intimate consort. Between Klimek’s aleatory pools of minor chord drift and Donnacha Costello’s guitar-loop threnody (Costello’s piece displays a structure seemingly based on Bark Psychosis’ “Pendulum Man”: artfully placed guitar followed by a flood of light-headed drones) lays a music drawn of two impulses: dissolving into sound, and capturing the listener in resonant sentiment. Ambiguity versus identification. Pop Ambient 2004 may well be the best of this series yet.

By Jon Dale

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