Kenneth James Gibson

Kompakt - Pop Ambient 2018


Given this is now a yearly tradition for me, I'm going to mix it up a little...

Firstly, a few thoughts on Kompakt's latest addition to its ambient series, Pop Ambient 2018.  Knowing where to start when these drop at the end of every year, let alone what to say is often a challenge, without having to review for review's-sake. Every year I comment on how the style continues to evolve ever-so-slightly compared to the Gas-infused loops and drones from the earlier editions of 2003.  But that's a good thing, as Kompakt are essentially documenting a particular evolution of ambient music year-after-year. It may be a limited scope considering all things ambient, but for those that listen to the details, it starts to mimic some subtleties that are represented out ion the music world. 

One noticeable change, is the proliferation of modern-classical music. There was no such-thing on the earlier editions (at-least without some kind of heavy manipulation) , but now the likes of Kenneth James Gibson makes regular appearances (his latest on this 2018 edition, is one of his finest yet) and the piano is the core focus for Leandro Fresco and Thore Pfeiffer on the compilation opening track. And while newcomer Yui Onedera's depth in Prism, is manipulated enough to make it a beautiful drone record, there's no hiding the strings that power the emotion behind it. 

But before you start thinking we've got a new Erased Tapes compilation on our hands (nothing wrong with that I may add), curator Wolfgang Voigt, still manages to nail the Pop Ambient sound by bringing some old friends back to level the playing-field. Triola's, L'Atalante is a straight zip-line back to Jorg Burger's early contributions and The Orb, go swamp-walking again with Sky's Falling, harkening back to their early Kompakt album, Okie Dokie It's The Orb On Kompakt, or 2005's classic Pop Ambient track, Falkenbruck

Just when you think you've got your head around the evolution of sounds found in the latest edition, pedal steel guitarist Chuck Johnson hits you with a wisp of country-vibe, and dusty roads, a-la KLF in Brahmi

2018's Pop Ambient edition bridges some of the many sounds that have evolved since its inception all those years ago, with echoes of classics and nods to the new. It's a mainstay yearly release for this very reason, and whilst it's likely never going to try and revolutionize ambient music as we know it and present something different, that's not the point. Pop Ambient captures a sound many of us have now grown up with. 

I see some people expecting something new and exciting every time this compilation comes out - something to write about maybe. It's the struggle I realize - how do you write about something new which sticks to the same great recipe and does it so well? Ambient music doesn't have something this consistent at this level - it's called 'Pop' Ambient for a reason, and I'm all good with it presenting a solid roster every year capturing the slowly evolving sound of the music we all love. 

Kompakt's Pop Ambient 2018, available to buy now.


Given the retrospect theme coming through, I thought I'd follow in the footsteps of a few of the Kompakt artists (Leandro Fresco's selections here) and select my all-time top-10 Pop Ambient tracks since the very first compilation in 2001. This is something that's extremely hard for me to do given my love for the series, and I'm already changing my mind... so I'm not going to make a fuss and write about them all. Ok, too many early tracks in here, I should change it. No... I'm just gonna hit 'publish' and leave this right here... enjoy! Listen on Spotify.

Also available on Apple Music.


Kenneth James Gibson - The Evening Falls


Kompakt's Pop Ambient album series returns with its fourth installment by multi-faceted artist Kenneth James Gibson.

Producing under several aliases, most notably his minimal techno focused, 
[a]pendics.shuffle and as Bell Gardens alongside Stars Of The Lid's Brian McBride; Kenneth has earned the respect of many across multiple genres, but The Evening Falls will be his first full ambient production, and also marks the first Pop Ambient album release by an artist previously not featured on any Kompakt compilation.

With Leandro Fresco, Jens-Uwe Beyer and Thore Pfeiffer preceding this release, The Evening Falls leaves us keen-eared in anticipation from such an esteemed multi-instrumentalist, yet whilst talking with Kenneth, an ambient album seemed to have always been on the horizon: "I have always listened to tons of ambient music and always had plans to produce a full album like The Evening Falls. It just took a little longer then originally planned to get to it. I made this record in my head many years ago, it just didn't physically come out of me till recently. There was nothing stopping me, I just wasn't in the right state of mind to see it through. It took cruising at a slightly different pace then I was at before".

The Pop Ambient sound has seen a slight progression over the past few compilations, and for the album series to continue strongly, it would undoubtedly have to stray into previously unfamiliar ambient territory. With The Evening Falls, we see Pop Ambient's least electronic foray yet, as Kenneth takes us through a range of emotionally charged pieces, simple in format, intense in storytelling, including everything from "guitar, pedal steel, pianos, strings to synths and digital processing", alongside minimal field recordings. 

Spurred by a move away from LA to the town of California's Idyllwild, the album comes from his new-found inspiration amongst the mountains: "I'm surrounded by awesome nature up here in Idyllwild and having more of a connection to that changes everything in your daily life. It's very quiet and very dark here at night. At my cabin, when it's 7 or 8 pm it feels like 2 in the morning. That feeling had a big effect on the record".

The first progression in Pop Ambient sound you'll notice is the modern-classical, soundtrack style approach. Kenneth's music is organic in feel, with only the subtlest, static buzz of synthesizers, accentuating an otherwise purely instrumental album.  Instruments interchange in lead throughout the nine tracks, but one particular sound may spike the ears of the chill-out aficionados amongst us. 

In tracks such as A Conversation Between Friends, you may start to recall a notorious instrument from an infamous '90s album adorned with sheep, Elvis and steel-guitars. When asked about its potential influence, Kenneth tells us, "Kompakt head-honcho, Michael Mayer said one of the reasons he and Wolfgang Voigt liked this record so much was because of the pedal steel and their love for The Chill Out Album, and how the album brought them to a similar place. I only heard that record a few times when it came out but it didn't stick for some reason. I did however go back and listen to it again recently and really enjoyed it. 

I'm a huge classic country music fan and obviously pedal steel is a big part of that sound. I think between country music and Daniel Lanois' use of the instrument was the big inspiration for me on that end. One of my oldest friends David Cuetter was the man behind the steel on this album. He nailed it. We were skateboard kids into punk rock growing up in Texas. I would have never imagined that we would be working on this kind of music together so many years later. I'm also in a band called Bell Gardens and get to work with another awesome steel player named Julian Goldwhite on that stuff. I'm just a big pedal steel fan. It can work well with so many different kinds of music!"

As the steel pedal lulls us across the summer skies, a melancholic piano paints a slow pace in tracks such as, Weighty Repetitions and, Failed To Interrupt; the latter of which benefits from a glorious uplifting synth that acts as an opening scene to the more introspective soundtrack score of my favorite piece, Poured Semi Silently Upon You

Layered string textures play a vital role amongst the album, adding the warmth and padding that often comes with any of Kompakt's ambient outputs. Combined with minimal digital processing on tracks like The Art Of Forgetting Yourself, and Long Gone Canadian Summer, you hear the faint distant electronic-echoes that have inspired so many Pop Ambient albums over the years, but in a completely new light, portrayed by a truly talented instrumentalist. No better moments exists than the tense violins of Poured Semi Silently Upon You dramatizing a sublime soundtrack moment you'd come to expect from the likes of Jóhann Jóhannsson, Dustin O'Halloran, or Bell Gardens collaborator Brian McBride. 

These elements of sheer beauty combine on a score that sits with the very best of composers, peppered with the faintest of electronic influences from its label curators. The Evening Falls welcomes a new dawn for Kompakt and their ongoing Pop Ambient album series as they push into a more experimental/modern-classical sound, whilst simultaneously serving up moments of welcoming reflection to keep you feeling at home.

Luckily for us, this doesn't sound like Kenneth's first and last jump into this majestic sound: "The follow up album is already started. I'll continue to do whatever I'm in the mood for, but there will definitely be more ambient music. There's a new [a]pendics.shuffle album coming out in July called "Aware Sequence Found Life" on my label Adjunct Audio. Lots of things always in the works..."

The Evening Falls will be available on Kompakt on Vinyl, CD and digital formats on April 29th.

Stream a continuos mix of the album in its entirety below.

01. To See You Drift
02. Long Gone Canadian Summer
03. Failed To Interrupt
04. Poured Semi Silently Upon You
05. A Conversation Between Friends
06. Lateral Decomposition
07. Broken Thought
08. Weighty Repetitions
09. The Art Of Forgetting Yourself