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Various Artists: Pop Ambient 2007

Various Artists: Pop Ambient 2007

Release Date:2007

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 2/7/2007

As with every form of music you can legitimately term a "style," the best thing about ambient is also the worst: Most of the time it basically doesn't change. That's fine when scene setting is the goal--create a background, get the lighting just right, then disappear while the listener does his or her thing in sync with or while ignoring the stuff. But good ambient marks a delicate line. Its godfather, Brian Eno, cited listenability and ignorability as its use-value poles; in listening terms, thrall and tedium are more like it. Too much of the latter and you've got a problem, however benign; too much of the former and it isn't really ambient anymore.

The latest in Kompakt's annual end-of-year series, which features the Cologne, Germany, label's roster caressing the machines it usually makes simmer and snap, circumvents these problems by adopting a more methodical stance. Poky, lush tracks such as Gas' "Nach 1912," Markus Guentner's "Altocomulus Opacus," and Thomas Fehlmann's "Next to the Field" stretch their melodic kernels and grainy orchestral swooshes deliberately into the horizon; it's as systematic and logical and soothing as watching those screen-saver pipes in slo-mo. Even better is "Kappsta," by the Field--placed, yes, next to Fehlmann in the running order--which endlessly replays a snippet of a woman's voice over a nearly subliminal 4/4 pulse and gradually arcing chords to hypnotic effect. Similarly, Triola moves slowly from static synth wash to a neatly interlocking system of soft-focus melodic and rhythmic fragments. Is it thrilling? Only to a degree--which, of course, is the idea.

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