Mikkel Metal

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.


Kompakt - Pop Ambient 2016


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'sConfiguración 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