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

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Pop Ambient has always been one of Kompakt’s flagship projects, but in 2021 it is surely needed more than ever. With no reason to change the winning formula of seasoned regulars and bright new things, the series – in Kompakt’s words – becomes ‘a sprightly young adult waltzing out of its teenage joys and tears’.

What’s the music like?

It is no understatement to say this really is balm to soothe the soul. From the moment new Kompakt signings Blank Gloss begin the music takes its listener to a special and very relaxed place, the Sacramento group letting their guitar run free through On A Vessel.

Then Yui Onodera pans out with Chromo 5, with similarly warm textures that seem to hang on a gentle breeze. Reich & Würden‘s Lens proves to be rather special, with a slightly mournful trumpet lead that hints of a detective or intelligence series theme. Joachim Spieth & Pepo Galán‘s Libration proves to be one of those wonderfully immersive ambient tracks, holding still on one pitch but moving subtly above it. Max Würden‘s Center does the same, with a simple but probing piano line, while Neozaïre‘s Vor Den Toren Europas resembles the sound of an orchestra playing slowly outdoors.

Neozaïre is one of three new Kompakt artists on this release, along with Blank Gloss and Seventh World, whose Light The Waves Before Dawn is a beautifully stretched mood piece suggestive of the lazily moving waters themselves.

Does it all work?

Effortlessly so. The great thing about Pop Ambient is that it works so well but never rests on its laurels, giving new pointers in ambient music with each installment.

Is it recommended?

You know the answer. As a standpoint in the ambient music calendar, Pop Ambient is eagerly awaited and delivers with as little effort as possible. As, indeed, ambient music should.

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Switched on – GAS: Oktember (Kompakt)

What’s the story?

This second EP from Wolfgang Voigt‘s GAS project actually dates from 1999, when it was released on Mille Plateaux, but now it has been ‘transferred’ to his home Kompakt label. There are only two tracks but half an hour of music, released in part to offer some comfort in isolation.

What’s the music like?

This is music for mindfulness. Tal 90, the first track, feels like it is played on vinyl, with the reassuring clicks and scratches serving as a background to Voigt’s fuzzy overall sound. His concept is orchestral, with serene violins high in the mix and a soft but majestic line for horn. There are no drums but the music floats in suspension, resulting in a comforting feeling for the listener.

The second track Oktember is much darker and denser, and has an immediately subtle menace to its sound. The steady tread of a four to the floor rhythm underpins thick, brooding chords, which are still strangely comforting despite their straight-faced approach.

Does it all work?

It does. GAS is an incredibly well-revered project and in all recent ambient music it remains one of the most recognisable styles. Time really does stand still when Voigt finds the right level of musical hypnosis, and Oktember finds him towards top form.

Is it recommended?

Yes – and if fans don’t already have it they will want to snap up these two recordings. They work particularly well as early morning or late night balm.

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