Our favorite ambient compilation marks its 2016 release with a stand-out return by The Orb, some subtle changes in direction and a couple of surprising remixes.
Stephan Mathieu begins proceedings with a slightly uncharacteristic Pop Ambient track, edging into drone territory, only made accessible to the compilation as the piano opens up towards a more recognizable Pop Ambient finale.
It's a fitting intro to the return of The Orb, who take a different path to their more recent album output, and reflect on The Orb of past - a KLF style start is quickly drowned by a pulsating synth, as the cowbells subside and a smoother more Pop Ambient style line dissects the second half - this is the kind of stuff we've been missing from Fehlmann and Paterson.
At this point you'll realize Kompakt have decided to 'mix' the album - their first attempt if I remember correctly, and a change that is more than welcomed as the Pop Ambient sound develops and continues to grow over the years.
I know Anton Kubikov from his Traum releases alongside Milutenko, responsible for some rather dark and introvert ambient music. This time however Anton is playing ball with the beautiful light aesthetic that Pop Ambient demands in the track, April.
Max Wuerden is 2016's new Pop Ambient prodigy, just like 2015 introduced us to Thore Pfeiffer. Hailing from Cologne, it's no surprise to hear Max on this compilation and Unterwasser is a superb debut that has all the hallmarks Wolfgang much search high and low for each year. Looking through the port-hole of a submarine, Unterwasser clanks with thuds of underwater metal, and shines with the echoes of a nearby school of Dolphins.
The compilation then takes a new twist with the cinematic strings of Sicker Man & Gregor Schwellenbach - more akin to a soundtrack than the synth-heavy warmth of Pop Ambient past.
The jaunting, looping signature style of Thore Pfeiffer is then partnered with newcomer Max Wuerden for a classic sounding Pop Ambient track, underpinned with a tense, growing atmosphere that Max no doubt helmed, slowly digressing into the staple heavy synths of Mikkel Metal on Titan.
Leandro Fresco provides a surprising remix on Dave DK's track, Veira. Leandro's normally a sucker for some intensely warm tones, but this approach features a glistening light show layered atop a slow burning dub-beat - a stunning take on the original.
As if it was of any doubt by now, Wolfgang found a new favorite in Thore Pfeiffer, and deservedly so, especially when taking the classic Pop Ambient sound into consideration. Thore's megamix of Wolfgang's, Rückverzauberung takes the entire series concepted by Wolfgang and distills it into one track - an earnest feat, even if it isn't too recognizable by the sum of its parts.
Jens Uwe-Beyer was Kompakt's most recent dedicated Pop Ambient album with, The Emissary, so it's of little surprise to see the Popnoname legend appear on this 2016 edition. The slight delay of a piano is shrouded in swirling pads - a discerning warp-hole that leads you into the gently strummed guitars and howling wind of Leandro Fresco's, Configuración De Ataque. The Argentinian never fails to disappoint and if you thought his style was pinned-down, then his two efforts on this compilation show he has so much more to give.
Thore Pfeiffer steps up to finish the release with an angelic, mechanical juxtaposition, that sounds like a summers-day played backwards in a very hypnotic fashion. It's the perfect appendix to the newly mixed approach from Kompakt, which has continued to establish the sound we've come to love, and introduce us to many new ones.
It does make me wonder what this compilation will sound like in a few years time. With the subtle introduction of Stephan Mathieu's drones and Sicker Man & Gregor Schwellenbach's cinematic strings, Wolfgang's aperture within ambient music has expanded for the better, but I sure hope it doesn't digress from the sound he has spent cultivating over the past decade.
Available on 13th November, you can listen to samples over on the Kompakt release page.
01. Stephan Mathieu - April Im Oktober
02. The Orb - Alpine Dawn
03. Anton Kubikov - April
04. Max Würden - Unterwasser
05. Sicker Man & Gregor Schwellenbach - Turns
06. Würden & Pfeiffer - Feinherb
07. Mikkel Metal - Titan
08. Dave DK - Veira (Leandro Fresco Mix)
09. Wolfgang Voigt - Rückverzauberung (Thore Pfeiffer Megamix)
10. Jens-Uwe Beyer - The Bremen
11. Leandro Fresco - Configuración De Ataque
12. Thore Pfeiffer - Idyll