remote_ thoughts | contemporary electronic

Various – Pop Ambient 2006 – Kompakt – LP/CD

Posted in Uncategorized by remotethoughts on October 28, 2005

Once a year it’s worth getting excited about a new album that includes the word ‘Ambient’ in its title… I’m talking of course about Kompakt’s (almost) legendary series of chill-out Electronica albums which have grown in stature, if not in scope, over the last 5 years.

Since day one – or Pop Ambient 2001, to give it its full title – there has been a shift towards the more ethereal, the more breathy and the more downright musical and after a slight blip with ‘2005’ and some initial reservations about this particular edition, I’m glad to say that it is, in fact, a real grower.

Some people may think of it as ‘Ambient-lite’ and I can kind of see why, but essentially, Kompakt aren’t out to challenge the listener and they certainly don’t seem to want to be overly experimental. It’s simply a great slab of listening music for easy-going afternoons and smoky-hazy evenings.

The one notable absence on this album is that of Wolfgang Voigt – discounting the fact that he did the artwork, of course – which is a bit disorientating at first. What’s the point of Pop Ambient without the Godfather of the sound being involved? Luckily there are some new pretenders to the throne as well as some old faces as well.

The Orb get strangely folky with a cute guitar riff and a surprisingly rhythmic sound that is light, airy and actually got me jiggling about in my seat! They win the prize for the most upbeat Ambient track on the album.

Mikkel Metal and Andrew Thomas both deliver gems that fill the gap left by Voigt’s absence. Taking over where Gas left off they sculpt wonderfully dense textural tracks with plenty of depth and beauty.

Uli Teichmann (father of Andi and Hannes, by all accounts) really does do a fine job of sounding classical yet utterly contempoorary with a hypnotic loop that has haunting melodic sweeps and a gentle tone.

Ulf Lohmann and Popnoname are responsible for two delightful tracks that are coherently abstract but always melodically, whilst Markus Guentner once again proves that when he’s not writing commercially inclined Techno and House he’s still perfectly brilliant at putting together lush soundscapes of the highest order.

To be honest the weakest moments for me are Klimek’s ‘Gymnopedie’, which treads familiar ground and doesn’t really do anything particularly interesting with Satie’s masterpiece, and the version of ‘Albatross’ by Kohncke & Heimermann… a pretty tune but, unfortunately, due to its blatant associations with Ambient music not terribly exciting.

That said, there’s more than enough here to keep the avid fan going and, as always, there’ll be plenty of people waiting for this with baited breath.

Will the next Pop Ambient take a slightly different direction? Who knows? Until then however you get a pleasantly horizontal album that will blissfully pass over you, through you and around you, and sometimes, let’s be honest, that’s all you really want.


Level – Cycla – Spekk – CD

Posted in Uncategorized by remotethoughts on October 15, 2005

After the resounding brilliance and beauty of Spekk’s ‘Small Melodies’ compilation [KK:005] comes another gem in the form of Level’s superb ‘Cycla’ CD [KK:007].

There’s nothing more pleasing than receiving a piece of work that has clearly been constructed in a thoughtful and knowing way and this certainly lives up to the incredibly high expectations that I had for it.

The only real surprise is that Level didn’t have a track included on the aforementioned compilation, although the more you listen to this delightful work the more it becomes clear that this is moving down a substantially different, albeit linked, avenue than the previous Spekk releases.

Taylor Deupree, William Basinski, Richard Chartier and John Hudak have all provided sculpted soundscapes right from the beginning and this certainly follows in those footsteps, but with a different sort of flourish: it’s more Berlin-centric, if you will… a slightly dubbier beast, in attitude, if not actual sound and there are certain moments that bring to mind the early (and, conceivably best) works of Vladislav Delay.

Long, heavy and, initially at least, claustrophobic textures are the mainstay of this album and the combination of this with amazingly subtle, clanking, background percussion give the whole thing a mechanical feel that, I suspect, belies its organic roots.

Interestingly, having read an interview with Level (on the excellent Polymorphic Music

website) I discovered that the artist considers his sound to be possibly too minimal and that people would imagine his sounds would need extra layers to complete the compositions… a claim that I would utterly refute. If ever there was a full sounding and beautifully layered collection of tracks, this is it.

One can only speculate as to the reason behind this comment, but I for one (and, I suspect, an awful lot of other minimal Electronica fans) would agree that this works on several different layers… none of them too minimal.

From the opening tones of ‘Sensit’ to the closing moments of ‘Ferna’ we’re treated to an exemplary collection of reduced electronic atmospheres that are crafted with skill and depth to create an instantly hypnotic feel. Manipulated instruments, processed sounds and wonderful hints of wide-open reverb all drenched in a seemingly boundless, and timeless, ambience.

There are no beats to speak of, just hints of rhythmic sound using slowed down beats in an abstract, off-kilter way… but then, this style of music doesn’t need the obvious pulsating of a kick drum or a crunchy 8-bit break to drive it forward. It simply has its own momentum which moves you ever forward from track to track until you, inevitably, reach the end and find that you simply must listen to it again.

There are some genuinely heartbreakingly beautiful moments contained within and ‘Aler Besc’, particularly, is a track that truly aches with a melancholy sense of desolation. This feeling is carried throughout most of the album and for the secret isolationists among us will come as a real treat.

Essentially this is another example of just how deep modern minimalism can and should be and this CD will certainly be a highlight of the next few months listening.

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