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V/A - Pop Ambient 2005 / Sub Rosa vs. Kompakt

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Artist: V/A

Album: Pop Ambient 2005 / Sub Rosa vs. Kompakt

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Mar. 21, 2005

Kompakt’s Pop Ambient compilations come round regular as clockwork, early in the year, every year. Unlike the Total series, which serves as an annual guide to the label’s dance music arm, offering a potted history of the developments essayed on 12” singles, Pop Ambient celebrates stasis. This is why certain observers consider the label’s ambient stream its least important. But that’s churlish: ambient has never been about development – at least on any scale other than geological – and the conflation of all Kompakt commentary under one dancefloor-focused critical approach delimits the possibilities offered by the label.

Pop Ambient 2005 is a series of discrete moments of intimate eternity. At its limpest – Pass into Silence’s “Blue,” The Orb’s “Falkenbrück” – it sounds gauche, slightly tired, and bucolically New Age. Most of the artists avoid genre-wide clichés – no twittering birds, no relaxation tapes, and no banks of pre-sets. If the contributors rest on any formula, it is one peculiar to Kompakt – rich, silk-draped textures looping around each other at slightly different speeds so that the sounds quietly gnaw at each other, giving an edge to the soporific nature of much ambient. Call it the Wolfgang Voigt effect. Voigt makes a rare appearance, resurrecting the opening track from the final Gas album, Pop. Although it would have been nice to hear something new from Voigt, his Gas albums for Mille Plateaux are all out of print, and as they represent some of his finest work, any reappearance is welcome. Contributions from Triola, Peter Grummich, Ulf Lohmann, Thomas Fehlmann and DJ Koze gracefully plot away using similar co-ordinates. Popnoname’s “Gold” is slightly anomalous, recalling a rough demo take on David Behrman’s On the Other Ocean. Markus Guentner’s “Innenfeld” is Pop Ambient 2005 at its peak – sleepy-eyed rustlings coasting over a thick, glassine web of synth sound. Nothing “develops,” particularly – but whoever demanded that as the sole requirement of music?

Sub Rosa vs Kompakt was originally released in the late 1990s. For many it was the beginning of a love affair with the Cologne-based label. Sub Rosa’s index of remixers – Autechre, Scanner, DJ Olive – are clunky, lifeless, and out-of-sorts next to the graceful glide of Thomas/Mayer’s “Elbchaussee” and Michael Mayer’s peak track “17 und 4,” whose chugging house rhythms and gaseous, fever-struck textures are still absolutely compelling. The only remixer that grapples effectively with the Kompakt ethos is To Rococo Rot, who treat a cut culled from M:I:5’s Maβstab 1:5 12” with the utmost reverence – partly due to the quality of the original, and partly as To Rococo Rot’s own work is not more than a few centimeters from Kompakt on the map of German electronic music. Sub Rosa’s commissioned remixes are dated and clumsy, but the Kompakt originals sound fresher than ever.

By Jon Dale

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