Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2018

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2017-11-17
Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2018
Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2018

Kompakt, possibly the premier German ambient electronic label, has released a mind-boggling seventeen albums in its Pop Ambient series. And now we've got number eighteen, Pop Ambient 2018 to be exact, ready to slide us into the new year on a gentle wave of lush delights. With a dozen tracks and as many artists, it's a pleasant journey across the label's roster, with fairly consistent quality across the entire set, which ranges from standard ambient, to almost new age, to modern classical. Nothing here approaches pop though, so it remains a mystery why they use that in the name.

One thing you can be assured of: this album is loaded with pads, slow washes, and meditative spaces. 'L'Atalante', by Trila, is a remarkable example, and the addition of echoing guitars to the mix is just right, making the entire track sound like a slow descent through a delicious haze into endless depths. There's a definite Biosphere feel to it, not cold, precisely, but perhaps distant. 'Brahmi', by Chuck Johnson, uses a steel guitar to great effect, setting the song on a dusty desert road with a night sky full of stars. Kenneth James Gibson does a fine job of building a slow, revelatory track with 'Disinclined to Vacata', which feels like rising up into in the clouds as it leads with a quiet, simple, sweet synth melody and transforms it into a string section. 'Travelled Between Souls', by Kaito, is another tune that seems to lead with light guitar work, but adds an efferverscent synth and lots of shimmery pads to create another voyage, this time down a cosmic river.

And of course everyone will be interested in the brand new Orb track on the album, 'Sky's Falling'. It's of a piece with the rest of the set for the most part, with some interesting gurgling effects, like being dragged through bubbling mud deep underground, and that singular Orb hum and twinkle scattered about. Interestingly, the texture of the song slowly changes, becoming cleaner, almost crackling towards the finish. It's relatively subdued compared to many of the more far out explorations by Paterson and Co., but it works nonetheless.

Not all the songs are amazing, however. 'Eterna', by T. Raumschmiere, is mostly one big interminable buzz, with minor variations and shifts, but does relatively little to distinguish itself. T. Raumschmiere is more known for his harder techno work, and he seems a bit out of his element here. 'Athos' is another that comes off as too atonal, such that it goes just barely too far past mournful and disturbing to somewhat annoying. Other songs are better, but not quite as sublime as the best on offer. 'Panorama' by Würden & Pfeiffer, flickers and shines, with a slightly more aged sound, like early 80s ambient, but fails to transport me. And Mikkel Metal's 'Shame' is yet another track featuring intermittent guitar strums and deep, spacey textures, but it doesn't reach my core.

Still, taken as a whole, this is a captivating set. A label so deeply embedded in the electronic scene that has been putting out an ambient series for almost two decades surely knows its stuff, and this compilation is a safe bet for any fans of the genre, or even anyone that wants to see a good mix of styles that fall under the broader ambient umbrella. If this is representative of what 2018 has in store, the coming year should be a lovely one.

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