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V/A - Pop Ambient 2011

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Artist: V/A

Album: Pop Ambient 2011

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Feb. 1, 2011

A good single is an ad for an album. It’s like a trailer for a movie. See the trailer, go see the movie, hope for a few bonus moments, forcing tears or laughs, that weren’t in the trailer. Hear the ad, buy the album, and sit through a few filler tunes to hear a few songs that may have also worked well as ads. Get your hands on a sampler or compilation, and you’ve got a collection of ads. Throw one on, and you’re looking at 60 to 90 minutes of three-to-five-minute trailers, some of them “tentpoles” designed to make the others sound less unconvincing. Sounds like a fun evening.

The people at Kompakt who curate the Pop Ambient series, they differentiate. These people don’t make trailers. They make movies.

I once described these collections of beatless electronica as “a new sort of pop music, with new, ever shifting relationships to rhythm, melody and texture.” I proudly stand behind it. But I can’t predict which artists on the ‘011 edition will eventually overcome the pack, as The Field and The Fun Years did previously, and get love from bored, freshly unemployed poptimists. I can respect the freshness, but can’t anticipate how these innovations will change the landscape. I hesitate to pick a few favorites. I’m too busy putting this thing on again and zoning out for 80 minutes. I’m not sure if Pop Ambient 2011 is the strongest collection of pieces the series has produced (I still think the ‘09 edition has more highlights), but it’s the most front-to-back cohesive, the most cinematic, by a damn sight.

A melody appears. It flourishes. It evokes faded photos and the smell of home-cooked muffins. A hook or a wordless chant pops into the background, at first obnoxious, gradually hypnotic. Slowly, drone overcomes. Washes away the whole scene. Seemingly for good. The drone recedes. For a moment, there’s nothing. Another melody sprouts. It’s like the seasons!

Carsten Nicolai and Blixa Bargeld start us out cold and ominous. Marsen Jules brings the elaborate classical composition to the simple melancholy of a graduation ceremony on “Once In a Moment.” Recurring favorites Wolfgang “Gas” Voight, Jurgen Pappe and Bvdub turn up the heat until the exact moment it goes from uncomfortable and weirdly thrilling to irritating and distracting, then refreeze the ice. Thomas Fehlmann (of Orb fame) closes with a variation on Mahler’s “Titan.” After an hour plus of this shit, it kicks ass and sounds not a whit pretensions.

Winter is not a wimp for succumbing to spring. Give me six months and I’ll pick a single.

By Emerson Dameron

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