This Week's Featured Download
Pop Ambient 2008
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Ask any electronic music enthusiast to sum up Kompakt in less than a sentence, there's no doubt that their answer will include two words: "minimal" and "techno". The funny thing is that while the overall aesthetic from the artists on the Cologne label is usually thoughtful and restrained, there's an indescribable, almost contradictory lushness that comes through the less-is-more quality of the productions. Even while producers like head honcho Michael Mayer or label newcomer Gui Borrato have found ways to incorporate elements of the dreaded five-letter "trance" word into more recent releases, the results are still surprisingly intelligent and melodic. But what makes the annual Pop Ambient compilations so special is that the producers involved are able to step away from the confines of 4x4 dance beat and solely hone in on the warm textures we associate with the label. Simply put, Pop Ambient is Kompakt's soul.
Unlike the rule of thumb of the Total series (even numbers are always the best), it's really hard to select a standout PopAm volume, but track for track, 2008's edition is certainly one of the strongest yet. This year, usual Kompakt suspects like Markus Guentner, Ulf Lohmann, Popnoname and New Zealand's Andrew Thomas bring us rich soundscapes which perfectly blend organic with electronic -- check the light plucks of acoustic guitar dotting over the lush synth string pads and motorik cricket pulses during Guentner's album opener "Ocean Day." Not every track is beatless, however; Wolfgang Voigt (recording here under his All alias) uses a repetitive rhythmic loop of what sounds to be a CD skipping throughout "Sag Alles Ab," as light vibrato chords undulate on top. While still far, far from dancefloor territory, an actual beat is even more apparent in contributions from artists like Triola, Thomas Fehlmann (of the Orb, whose "ambient techno" was certainly a defining influence on the Kompakt sound) and the Field, the latter of which whose "Kappsta 2" is only a slightly mellower take on his gauzy, sampledelic house of his breakthrough From Here We Go Sublime. Album standout, Klimek's "The Ice Storm" is probably the most cinematic five minutes of Pop Ambient 2008, with watery string swells ebbing and flowing like the cycle of a tide on a full moon night. (Earlier this week, my iPod shuffled to a choral piece by Arvo Part right after the Klimek track, and the hairs on my arm literally stood on end. It was one of those moments where two seemingly different styles and cultures of music flowed perfectly, and eerily into each other.)
Kompakt really has had a stellar year, the aforementioned From Here We Go Sublime by the Field, Thomas Fehlmann's Honigpumpe and Gui Boratto's Chromophobia being among the label's best releases. It comes as no surprise that they'd draw 2007 to close on a high note, that being one of the most fluid and consistent Pop Ambient installments yet. We're also very excited to announce that Kompakt has given Other Music Digital access to a ton of their back catalog, and we're hard at work publishing quite an abundance of titles, many of which have been out of print in the physical world for quite some time. Below are just a few of our favorites: a new 12" from Justus Kohncke and the latest Speicher single with Gui Boratto and SCSI-9, as well as Closer Musik's now unavailable "One, Two Three... (No Gravity)" 12" (certainly one of the label's most seminal releases), Dettinger's first 12" "Blond" from almost a decade ago, and the out-of-print "Teaser" single from Lawrence. More and more Kompakt releases will be appearing on OM-D in the coming days, so if you don't find what you're looking for, check back, you'll probably see it very soon.