It was just last night that I hit play on Pop Ambient 2007, and began to nod off before a swirl of melody forced me to check which track was providing a rather beautiful sleep song. It was no surprise to learn that it was the legendary Thomas Fehlmann and his track, ‘Next To The Field‘. That shift in pads at 3.53 is simply beautiful.
This is after all, one of the most successful and consistent ambient series of all time; a series that is nearly always packed full of many of the best ambient productions for the year that is to follow. 2014’s edition looks set to raise that bar just a little bit higher.
Starting at the most immediate point of interest – the return of GAS. For those unaware of the finer details us music geeks obsess over, Wolfgang Voigt; one-third owner of Kompakt; Pop Ambient curator; producer in his own right and of course, the man behind GAS, has kept his infamous ambient moniker dormant since 2008. His return comes in the form of a remix of none other than The Field – one of 2013 stand-out records and certainly one of Kompakt’s best. “Cupid’s Head” is deconstructed from it’s driving nature and forced into a swirling, hypnotising oblivion. The chord changes come in the form of the infamous GAS pads and the loops distorted into a pulsating wash of textures.
Wolfgang’s named production on the compilation is a reminder of the intensity he sometimes likes to reach with the likes of Mohn (his production duo with Jörg Burger / aka Triola ). Intense pads create a rush of wind, a tunnel of pressure and ultimately, the darker side of the release.
A Pop Ambient original also makes his return in this 2014 edition: Ulf Lohmann. The elusive German producer always delivers some of the more emotive beginnings to the series and Ulf’s first track ‘Sicht’ is a classic; straight from the Pop Ambient manual. Taught, looping strings dictate a morning’s beginnings and the classic sunshine feel.
Book-ending the compilation; Ulf’s second cut ‘PCC’ is yet another stand-out. Emotion takes over as a story unfolds and soundtrack-esque backings grow into a tear-jerker of a ending – this is one of those tracks that’ll be played time and time again.
A relatively minimal effort from Thomas Fehlmann this time around, the Orb maestro emphasis his organic approach to clicks and beats, with a bubbling flow of texture and distant piano. It’s a far distance from any Orb constellation we know, but the perfect incision to the Pop Ambient series.
Marking a welcome return for quite a few artists, Pop Ambient 2014 also sees The Bionaut’s debut on the series. Jörg Burger’s original moniker, with releases dating back to 1992, remixes the old with the new under the Triola name, in anticipation of a new album due out on Kompakt in the Spring. One of the very few Pop Ambient tracks to feature a vocal, Triola’s intense remix is one of those tracks that epitomises the Pop Ambient approach- simple, looping and focused, it draws you in only to leave you gasping for more.
The consistently expected, more ‘electronic’ side of the compilation comes from Mikkel Metal. No stranger to Pop Ambient, Mikkel’s deep and dubby approach to techno bursts through in this lush, spaced-out production that focuses on a spell-binding guitar and sporadic, computerized samples. I’m hoping someone takes on remix duties for this one, as I can feel a pretty awesome dub-techno track bubbling away somewhere.
Clashing bells, chimes and the synonymous Marsen Jules organics come out to play again in ‘The Philosophers Trap’. Shimmering like a flicker of light amongst a dark, intense chasm, Marsen is once again caught constructing an elaborate novel of instrumentation.
A new one for me – ‘Cologne Tape’ makes it’s debut on the compilation. A “Kraut electronics allstar live project that has been dreamed up for the modern era”, consisting of numerous Kompakt related artists including Axel Wilner (aka The Field), Jens-Uwe Beyer (aka Popnonanme) Jörg Burger, John Harten (aka Cato), Daniel Ansorge (involved in a few productions on Pop Ambient over the years), Michaela Dippel and Volker Pannes. ‘Moorpark’ gives a retro, analog feel to the release, with shuffling drums, a multitude of layered guitar loops and what feels like a bunch of geniuses jamming in a Cologne garage on a warm summers day.
Simon Scott’s beautiful gem, ‘Für Betty’ also makes a gracious appearance. Stripped of his drums, Simon opts for a rumbling bass amongst soaring guitar textures and paralleled, distant vocals. Yes, I’m going to say it – if you’re a fan of Slowdive you’ll relate with this track- there’s just something in there…
With a series that’s over then ten-year mark, it’s easy to lose what you started, or to fade into the distance, especially when trying to run one of the worlds biggest techno labels. But with the revival of classic sounds (GAS, Fehlmann, Marsen Jules, Ulf Lohmann for example) and the pioneering of new (Cologne Tape, Triola, The Field, Mikkel Metal), Wolfgang’s Pop Ambient will always remain one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and 2014’s edition is easily one of their best yet.
Available in all formats on January 27th through Kompakt. Stream the compilation on Kompakt.
Read an interview with Kompakt’s Thomas Fehlmann here.
Listen to Marsen Jules’ isolatedmix here.