No matter what is happening in the world, we can all count on German electronic label Kompakt to deliver us their annual Pop Ambient compilation in time for year’s end. And as expected, here comes the 2017 collection at the tail end of the 2016 calendar year to help us trip our brains out in the most beatless way possible. So thank you label curator Wolfgang Voigt, for reminding us that electronic music doesn’t have to move as fast as all other electronic developments taking place across the rest of our crazy globe. Sometimes you just want a whispering drone to carry on for five minutes. Sometimes you need a delicate soundscape that can drape a continent no problem. When weasels all around you are ready to go pop, it’s comforting to find a collection of artists who are so willing to let pop go ambient.
For Pop Ambient 2017, Wolfgang Voigt has mixed veteran and newcomer artists from the label roster so thoroughly that you’d swear they all collaborated somehow. Appropriately enough, this collection does feature two notable collaborations. For instance, Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) lends a hand to the up-and-coming Japanese artist Yui Onodera on “Locus Solus”, a nice piece of isolationism propelled by gentle static. Voigt himself remixes the Soulsavers’s track “HAL” with only the sparsest of percussion to guide it along the way. But just as Soulsavers have entered the series as an already-established act, Onodera himself doesn’t really need help from Rimbaud in order to make a statement. In fact, he’s given the first slot on Pop Ambient 2017 with shamelessly lush “Cromo 1” and “Cromo 2”.
Max Würden may be armed with a guitar on “Fernfeld”, but he can still put the “M” in Minimal when he wants to. Further in, his “186.000 Miles Per Second” remains meditative despite the soft, steady pulsing electronic noises. Leandro Fresco shows two sides to his ambient personality with “Sonido Español” set to a babbling brook backdrop and “El Abismo” showing all the ornamentation of an arctic resort. Jens-Uwe Beyer splits the difference on having some chiming ornamentation on top of “Final 9.1” and producing stillness-in-action on “Final 10”, the latter of which closes out Pop Ambient 2017. And I find myself enjoying Thore Pfeiffer’s awkwardly-naked “Good Life” more than anything from his Kompakt debut, as decent as it was. Anton Kubikov and Kenneth James Gibson turn in one track apiece that sound like they’re trying to outdo one another with heavenly rays of light.
Comparing and contrasting Pop Ambient 2017 to all of its older sibling releases is kind of pointless. They all set out what they intend to do, which is to medicate listeners through meditation while giving them a glimpse of what’s to come on the Kompakt roster. The quality of the releases themselves is shaped by the listener’s willingness to drop all pop pretenses. The word “Pop” may be in the title, terrain mapped out by Pop Ambient 2017 remains a Kompakt specialty.