Switched On – Various Artists: Pop Ambient 2021 (Kompakt)

What’s the story?

Pop Ambient’s place in the calendar is a reassuring recurrence, as is the music it contains.

For more than 20 years now, Kompakt’s beatless compilation series has given a steadying hand to its listener’s, and the Cologne label see no reason to tinker with their formula.

Once again the tracklisting is a blend of familiar names and new talent, curated as ever by Wolfgang Voigt. His question is simple: What happens when the dancefloor is empty, and everyone’s home to drift away?

What’s the music like?

Once again the carefully selected and sequenced music of Pop Ambient takes its listeners to a special place. Voigt has an uncanny ability of choosingmusic that takes the heat off everyday life, but retains an exquisite tension keeping the listener on board.

The steady chimes of Coiling, from relative newcomers Blank Gloss, is a great example before a deep dive into the watery textures of Yui Onodera‘s Cromo 6. Kari, a collaboration between Markus Guentner and Joachim Spieth, is absolutely lovely, suspended in a blanket of sound.

The bell-like sonorities of Reich & Würden‘s Grainscan prove unexpectedly moving with the addition of a poignant trumpet line, while the steady pulse of Triola‘s Mutterkorn is dressedwith birdsong. Perhaps inevitably some of the best music comes from Thomas Fehlmann, whose Rosen Fliegen has waves of consonant harmony. Later on the notable Retrospektive, from Max Würden, sparkles around the edges.

Elsewhere the calming selection includes blissful moments from Andrew Thomas, Thore Pfeiffer and Weiht, a strong collaboration between Morgan Wurde and Maria Estrella. Closing out the sequence we find Blank Gloss again, further enhancing their reputation with Anticlimbers.

Does it all work?

Yes. It may be a tried and tested formula for over two decades now, but there is surely no need to change the record for Voigt and Kompakt.

Is it recommended?

It almost goes without saying. Pop Ambient is as important now as it ever has been, and shows how Kompakt still have their finger on the reassuringly slow pulse.

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Switched On – Connecting The Dots mixed by Alex Paterson (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

In a little less than a year, Kompakt’s Connecting The Dots series has proved remarkably popular, as the label explore their substantial catalogue of electronic music. Now Alex Paterson, original founding member of The Orb, steps up to mine the more ambient side of the warehouse, pulling 17 out of the 15,000 available recordings to make a mix that would fall naturally into Kompakt’s Pop Ambient division.

The mix has been out for a while digitally, but has found its way on to Arcana’s early morning playlist in the last few weeks!

What’s the music like?

Extremely restful, providing a blissful 90-minute time out when needed – but also rewarding the closer listener, who can follow Paterson’s thought patterns as the meditative mood grows.

The Orb lynchpin starts with big, loping beats from Mohn, Schwarzer Schwan imposing a subtly menacing mood on proceedings. It doesn’t last, for the expansive Milk from Klimek is on hand. This track has like a series of long, slow breaths, taking its sweet time as each repetition leads gradually to a bigger, thicker sound.

Regular beats arrive once more with Markus Guentner’s mix of label founder Michael Mayer, Pensum held in place by a lovely suspended chord that you can dive into completely. The Orb’s own mix of Because Before by Ulf Lohmann is next, with lush slowly moving chords like a warm weather system. This blissful mood holds through the Fresco & Pfeiffer remix of Christian Löffler’s Pigment to ex-Orb member Thomas Fehlmann, and Treatment.

Each of the tracks is a good four and half minutes long at least, the slowly shifting mix paced just right. As it progresses we hear from Simon Scott, who spaces out his musical thoughts beautifully in Für Betty, and Andrew Thomas, static but meditative in I Am Here Where Are You. The mix reaches its zenith, however, with the quarter-hour penultimate track from Klimek. Music To Fall Asleep is a thing of beauty, drifting into a slow trance with a spatially altered guitar, against a background of softly pitched white noise. The coda is The Orb’s own Glen Coe, a cotton-wool glow of positive ambience and spoken word.

Does it all work?

It does – and a sure sign of this on the first few listens was that I couldn’t be bothered to check my player to see what the tracks were, or if indeed at some points we had even changed track! Such is the vibe behind Paterson’s choices, mixing and presentation.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. Paterson has so much experience in making fully immersive ambient music, and he clearly knows the corners of the Kompakt catalogue where the best possible mindful examples can be found. The artists not mentioned above – such as Gas and Walls – are testament to that. Nothing more need be said – just go and listen!

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You can listen to clips from the mix and purchase from the Kompakt website

 

Switched On – Various Artists: Total 21 (Kompakt)

total-kompakt-21

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Kompakt’s annual compilation series rolls on, but on hitting the coming of age number the Cologne label have decided to put it on a diet. Slimmed down to a single disc / four sides of vinyl, it is a leaner beast but still packs in 13 tracks that cast the net across the label’s output.

Seasoned Kompakt regulars such as John Tejada, Jürgen Paape, Voigt & Voigt, Gui Boratto and label founder Michael Mayer rub shoulders with new talent to these pages – Kollmorgen, The Bionaut and Nicky Elisabeth.

What’s the music like?

Kompakt’s approach to techno is always pleasingly varied, and this set of tracks spreads itself nicely across the tempo and emotional spectrum. It doesn’t take long for us to be transported to warmer climes in the company of Jürgen Paape, whose La Guitarra Romantica is dreamy and exotic. The same words could apply to Roman Flügel’s remix of Nicky Elisabeth’s Celeste, though in truth this is a magical piece of work, beautifully floated above the deep beats.

“I Am A Dancer!”, proclaims the track from Marc Romboy & C.A.R. of the same name, an assertive piece of work shaking its booty from the off, while Jonathan Kaspar’s Von Draussen also hits the tougher spot with its rolling drum track. John Tejada contributes some typically thoughtful and nicely woven techno on Spectral Progressions, while Voigt & Voigt do similar with darker shades on Nicht Mein Job.

Michael Mayer’s contribution Happy plays around with spatial effects rather well, as does Sascha Funke’s Fasson, working in a nice broken beat and airy synths for good measure.

Does it all work?

It does. The decision to slim down to a CD’s worth of tracks pays off – not that the previous Total series instalments were overlong – but it works well because it brings the focus in to some really good compositions. The Kompakt catalogue is still in good shape, it would seem!

Is it recommended?

It is indeed. One for the seasoned Kompakt fans, but also an effective introduction to the label if you’re late to their recent output.

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Switched On: Raxon: Sound Of Mind (Kompakt)

raxon

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The music of Ahmed Raxon has been a familiar feature on house and techno dancefloors for at least five years now, and he has previous with Kompakt as part of their Speicher series in 2019. The Egyptian DJ, now based in Barcelona, has label-hopped with a number of successful releases, but now turns to the longer playing format with his debut album.

What’s the music like?

Raxon’s versatility makes him the ideal producer for an electronic album. Sound Of Mind has plenty of variety, moving between slow and fast tempos, four to the floor and broken beat, but always with a surety of hand. The range of speeds and beats is impressively mastered, assembled in an order that makes the album more like a DJ set.

Raxon has a healthy penchant for music of the recent past, too, which helps him pull a couple of surprises out of the hat. Almost Human is one of these, a curveball with widescreen riffing and breaks that look more in the direction of Brighton than Barcelona. Flyby is an appealing slower jam with rich keyboards, while the sharp edges of El Multiverse are part of a really strong floor filler. Phantom Report has darkly coloured, solid beats – an examples of Raxon’s techno with depth – while Vice puts its bruising break beat to good use.

Does it all work?

It does. Raxon’s previous endeavours for a wide variety of labels helps enormously, as does his sense of structure – there are no fillers here, and a strong set of grooves in the locker.

Is it recommended?

Yes. An excellent debut long player from a producer whose versatility and confidence stand him good stead, Sound Of Mind is an album that avoids cliche and presents freshly made grooves with some style.

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Switched On: Blank Gloss: Melt (Kompakt)

blank-gloss

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Sacramento duo Blank Gloss met through a shared love of punk and experimental music, but their output is the polar opposite – a blissful musical ambience which has drawn the attention of Kompakt. Their track Of A Vessel was used on the Cologne label’s Pop Ambient 2021 compilation, and it features towards the end of Melt, their debut album.

What’s the music like?

Weightless and blissful, but also subtly animated. At no point does Melt feel like musical wallpaper – instead, it takes the listener outside and places them under the stars of the night sky. It is easy to imagine a wide open vista with the music they make, the scene immediately set from the first track Those Who PlantOf A Vessel makes the same understated and soothing impression as it did first time around, but sounds even better in this context.

There are some nice guitar fragments on Virga, and on Speaking Quietly too, where a dialogue emerges between soft piano and a thoughtful line on steel guitar. Almost Home shimmers in the half light, before Stained Glass reaches the album’s restful destination.

Does it all work?

Yes. If you liked Of A Vessel then you will certainly enjoy Melt, with its very gradual and enjoyable twists and turns. Blank Gloss never restrict themselves to one formula or musical language, and the subtle inventiveness at work here keeps the music in the foreground.

Is it recommended?

It is indeed. If you are in any way acquainted with the output of Kompakt’s ambient stable, you will be glad to know that Blank Gloss have seamlessly become a part of it. Melt is a soft-hued antidote to the pace and stress of modern life.

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