For those of us who didn’t get to see snow-capped mountains this winter, Kompakt has the soundtrack for similarly blissful dreamscapes. Pop Ambient, Kompakt’s quintessential ambient series, is now in its ninth year. And after a monumental 2008 for ambient music, Pop Ambient 2009 provides the flash of introspection that makes the last stage of winter bearable.
Kompakt rarely strays from the script with its yearly ambient compilation, which is basically an introduction to and review of the more experimental output. Longtime label hands (Klimek, Andrew Thomas) and newcomers (Sylvain Chauveau) fill an hour of somber and at times chilling sonic elegance. A major change this year is the organic instrumentation used, especially on Sylvain Chauveau’s two tracks.
Also noticeable is the dark corridors down which some of these tracks lead us. Perennial producer Klimek — who looks like and makes music that sounds like he has spent considerable time at the bottom of the ocean — opens and closes the album with dark, enigmatic cuts. Funereal horns and somber bass washes on opener "True Enemies & False Friends" send an ominous note that hangs on until Popnoname’s starry-eyed "Nightliner."
On Pop Ambient 2009, texture oozes, as does the influence of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. You can almost feel the waves crashing against the shore on "It’s Only Castles Burning" by Marsen Jules. And the most entrancing track, the Fun Years’ "I am Speaking Through Barbara," is structured around a Basinskian guitar loop that rumbles and builds over three short minutes.
Kompakt head Wolfgang Voigt has his hands all over every Pop Ambient release. And judging by his recent projects (reissue of Studio 1, the Nah Und Fern box set), those are pretty good hands to be in. Pop Ambient 2009 doesn’t offer any of the genre bends of past compiliations (see the Field’s "Kappsta" on Pop Ambient 2007). But its sonic brilliance is enough to make you want to throw your computer out the window and buy the vinyl.