When German techno institution Kompakt released their first Pop Ambient compilation in 2001, interest in the subgenre it profiles had more or less evaporated; beatless and blissed-out musical ideals had been surpassed by the increasingly ostentatious experiments of scene figureheads like Aphex Twin and the Orb. More recently, attention for hybrid strains of shoegaze, drone and kosmische have spurred a quiet resurgence in the sound, transforming a compilation that initially seemed almost anachronistic into something of an annual ambient tradition.
Bridging the gap between diehard ambient fans and listeners more attuned to Kompakt’s typical techno-pop hues, the 2012 edition follows the regular format of exclusive cuts from core label artists alongside notable outside talents. In the former camp, the frosty grumbles of Kompakt founder Wolfgang Voigt and Jorg Burger’s Mohn project open out into Superpitcher’s hyper-lush piano chords and distant vocals, while the Field launches his new Loops of Your Heart alias with plaintive and enveloping Spanish guitar swirls.
The guest artists mainly opt for darker atmospherics. Simon Scott’s classically-informed “For Martha” stretches endless strings and shards of orchestral detritus into ominous forms; latter-day ambient hero bvdub returns for the third time in fulsomely epic form; and France’s Marsen Jules breaks ranks via a smattering of feather light jazz drums, an anomaly for this famously beat-free zone. Such a seemingly minor violation of ambient dogma is hardly tearing up the rulebook, and at this stage neither is this compilation – and nor should it be. As comfortable providing an unobtrusive background soundtrack as it is suitable for intensely concentrated listening, the Pop Ambient series remains a reliably familiar, evocative and loveable highlight of the electronic music calendar.