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Album Review: Pop Ambient 2011

A new year, a new Pop Ambient release guaranteed to evoke a sense of nostalgia, escapism and make-believe. It’s the reason why fans revisit the brand, year after year, even with the arrival of an eleventh instalment, since there’s no stopping the quest to find inspiration in Kompakt’s dreamy universe of ambient electronica.

It’s the kind of establishment that raises suspicions over Kompakt’s inability to do wrong. Of course, after last year’s predictable nod to the past and 2007’s tame offering for the future, the Pop Ambient series is far from completion. Although it’s also important to consider that Wolfgang Voigt, Jurgen Paape, and the rest of the Kompakt family never strive for perfection, since it’s a human element that’s needed to evoke such vivid emotion in the music they release, and with the absence of some of the more illustrious characters, it’s left to the new blood to deliver the atmospheric quality that only the Cologne-based label can offer.

High fives all around then for bvdub and Bhutan Tiger Rescue, a new project by Ewan Pearson and October, who tease your inner-daydreamer with hypnotic synth hums, a berceuse of somnolent vocals, plus sleigh bells and haze, where even a small dose could be a cause for concern at a workplace. In fact both tracks match up to, if not better, Mikkel Metal’s The Other Side Of You, which glows like the ambivalent moon of young love, seemingly eternal until it fades into silence. It’s all a bit VOM HAUS.

Thankfully the puppy love dub is only there to offer respite from the doom and gloom of desolation permeated by the other half of the album. It begins with a gothmospheric journey into the collaboration of Alva Noto & Blixa Bargeld, whose blend of improvisation and abstraction seek to haunt even the darkest of fans. Or how about Triola’s Dunkelraum, which refers to the “psychomorotic concept of learning and interacting in a completely dark room?” It’s all a bit VOM HAUS too.

Although Pop Ambient 2011 shows us all that there’s beauty to be found in both elation and melancholy, almost to the point where it feels necessary to stop everything else in order to fully appreciate the craft that’s gone into the album. This is particularly true in the case of Thomas Fehlmann’s show stopping solo version of Titan by Gustav Mahler, where you’ll find yourself frozen by its monumental grace and, consequently, rooted to the floor until every second has passed. But it’s not perfect. It’s human.

- ‘Pablo’ Moya Kettell

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