Wolfgang Voigt's Pop Ambient series is a musical barometer; it tells which way the wind is blowing, how fast and how far. In its twelfth incarnation, you will not find earth-shattering epiphanies. You will not discover lost continents. You will, however, be treated to an hour plus of pleasant sounds and stirring inner voyages, glowingly recorded and produced by some of the most adept sonic alchemists in the field.
The ten tracks of PA2012 offers hints at which way the coming year will unfold, on dance-floors and headphones everywhere. Such a wide array of styles and composers makes for an interesting cross-section of styles; from the live-looping guitar of 'Riding the Bikes' from Loops of Your Heart, a new project from Axel Willner of The Field, to the haunting neo-classical drone of Bvdub's 'Your Loyalty Lies Long Forgotten'. There does seem to be a running tendency towards 80s plastic synth, Vangelis re-imagining, and live sampling and processing, the human blending with the machine.
There's not a mis-step on this record, although other reviewers would disagree with me. Many of us skip around from free-jazz to mnml techno to noise, it just makes for a more interesting inner journey. Most of the tracks function as furniture music, but there are a few stand-outs: Superpitcher's 'Jackson' sounds like Philip Glass in a dancehall, 70s minimalism given a digital shimmer, with a fountain of cascading piano and vocals. A rainbow plumed bird; 'Manifesto' by Mohn, the album opener, is probably my favorite track, with its sequenced pillowy fuzz pummel, sounding like some mid00s Merzbow record, and has been hated on, unnecessarily. Mohn, i like yr track! Who cares what those other reviewers say!
'Richmodis' by Triola has also been pretty much universally panned, and again, i just don't get it. Its a little weird in the playlist, granted, with its re-imagining of 70s sci-fi into a polychromatic mist, but how often do you hear a musical saw in a techno track? It sounds like the X Files, after contact has been established and pondered over for 6 and a half years, and excursions are about to commence. Music for the Wormhole.
You don't go to a series like Pop Ambient to find the most extreme, adventurous cutting edge sounds. The vanguard are always three leaps ahead, and are usually disseminating their art in the form of small-run, white label, homemade radio label cassette disseminations, ie. yr not gonna get it all neatly packaged in one place, and also the idea of a cohesive state of the ambient union is laughable. What Pop Ambient is good for, is to find a smattering of previously unheard artists, and take an audible adventure for an hour. They remind me of the old Fax compilations, or even homemade mix tapes. For those that like to listen to Ambient music, this will not disappoint, and the fact that it comes from Kompakt means that the sounds you will hear will not disappoint. I can say, after living with this record for a little while, that it makes an interesting and colorful mood, it will pervade yr life with some audible shimmer. It will flicker behind yr eyelids. It will make yr dish washing more like ballet. And there are some real stand-out tracks, here, that threaten to lead even further down the wormhole.