Album Reviews - Reviews

VA – Kompakt Pop Ambient 2014


Kompakt, surely Germany’s most pragmatic electronic label, have it pretty damn good. Not only do they operate from one of the most historically rich techno hubs in Europe, but as an independent and well-respected label they have become part of that same cultural relevance. The label has been lovingly grown from its record shop roots in the early 90’s and their propensity for sparse, subtly textured electronica has dominated their output up to the present day. Their latest compilation is the fourteenth installment of their Pop Ambient series and from the beginning seems to efficiently comply with the label’s sonic modus operandi; an old but honest cliché attributed to our German brothers in sound.

Returning after six years, Ulf Lohmann opens the compilation with ‘Sicht’, a droning crescendo of pads and echoing, swells of melody. Subtlety here takes centre stage and it certainly pays off for Lohmann given his experience, but its quality doesn’t quite match up to his haunting ‘PCC’ – the angular swansong of the compilation. Given the fact that Lohmann has been a cornerstone of the labels ambient sensibilities for quite some time, his framing of the collection is obviously an honour that Kompakt has bestowed upon him. All well and good, but there are moments of weird, dreamy brilliance in between his compositions that deserve the same VIP treatment, perhaps even more so.

For instance, Thomas Fehlman’s ‘Treatment’ and ‘Patience’ by Mikkel Metal are tracks that are lucid, thoughtful and truly engrossing. There is a depth to the sound that is naturaly futuristic but completely accessible. Well, sort of. Let’s not split hairs here, this is niche music for fans of niche artistry.  It’s a collection of tracks that exemplify what can be achieved with vision and ambition. That’s not to say it can’t be enjoyed aesthetically though. ‘Moorpark’ by Cologne Tape is lush, subtly percussive and short and sweet. A kind of perfect representation of ambient for beginners. Simon Scott follows with ‘Fur Betty,’ a beautiful, slowly pulsating track that is more than likely to set off the ol’ goosebumps.

The standout example of what Kompakt are trying to achieve with this series is Wolfgang Voigt’s ‘Ruckverzauberung 8.’ It is oscillating, sawing layers of non-melody that somehow work to form a kind of pseudo-melodic tone. It’s terrifying, frankly, and David Lynch would do well to hire this man for his next experiment in giving cinema-goers nightmares. What’s so notable about it though is how different it is to every other track on the compilation. It’s risky, but it capitalises on its distinct sound.

Compared to earlier compilations in the series, Pop Ambient 14 holds its ground. It isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel but one feels Kompakt aren’t really interested in doing so with this series. What they are doing is offering solid, if not slightly familiar material to a loyal fanbase. Aaron Drain