The Fun Years - "I am Speaking Through Barbara" (Pop Ambient 2009)
Through the aughties, Kompakt has released a Pop Ambient disc to coincide roughly with the commencement of spring. (I live in Southern California, and I rarely have any idea what time of year it is unless I’m in the seasonal aisle at Walgreen’s, but it’s an apt reference.) Curator Wolfgang Voigt, fresh from the warm reception given last year’s Nah und Fern box set (collecting his work as Gas), takes a few risks here, mixing some fresh stuff with a quality dose of the familiar.
The comp doesn’t set out to "redefine" anything – part of the charm of the Pop Ambient series is that it’s somewhat predictable, and when the ’09 volume looks away from its brain-rinsing, neo-Eno techno-ambient stock in trade, it looks more sideways than ahead. Klimek’s "True Enemies and False Friends" sounds like a bombastic symphony running out of battery juice after several generations of cassette-to-cassette dubbing. Sylvain Chauveau’s "Nuage III" is also on the out-classical tip, less true to its title than it is evocative of a soft-focus death scene in some arty soap opera. "Nightliner," Popnoname’s slinky cop-show theme, has the closest thing on Pop Ambient to a beat, albeit an implied one. This year’s fresh faces, the Fun Years, contribute "I am Speaking Through Barbara," a guitar-based meditation that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Spiritualized record. (The Fun Years might not be poised for that rare, Field-style breakout, but it wouldn’t be undeserved.) Chauveau’s "Fly Like a Horse" might work in that context, too.
On balance, though, the disc has that comforting familiarity. Voigt plays on two tracks and remixes one, none of which is on par with the best of Gas and all of which are pleasantly moody, soothing and glacial. Tim Hecker checks in briefly with "Shosts in Silver," a three-minute taste of that icy, noisy, melancholy thing he does. And Kilmek returns for the 10-minute closer, intriguingly titled "The Godfather (For William Basinski and Snoop Dogg)," an eerie, weary drift headed no place in particular.