It’s 2020, the year Pop Ambient turns twenty-one years old, a spritely young adult waltzing out of its teenage joys and tears. Pop Ambient has always stood for a certain classicism and elegance, a kind of beatless music that’s diaphanous and hazy, gossamer and glittering. It’s a music that’s no less inviting for its slow pace and becalmed nature, with a different kind of tension bubbling under the surface. For twenty-one years, KOMPAKT co-founder Wolfgang Voigt has curated a series of peerless compilations that repeatedly find refreshing answers to a simple question – What happens when the dancefloor is empty, and everyone’s home to drift away?
As with many other Pop Ambient compilations, Pop Ambient 2021 offers a welcome platform to contributions from both old friends and new faces. It opens with the gorgeous, slo-mo drift of “Of A Vessel”, from new Kompakt signings Blank Gloss. Sending their music out into the world from their home in Sacramento, this duo makes music that’s featherlight and luscious, the muted chime of a guitar over here, the steady hum of a halatial drone over there; everything in its right place, and nothing overdone. The poise is all. Neozaïre (Tobias Sawitzki aka Noorden) and Seventh World (Juho Hietala aka Blamstrain) are our other two new voices, the latter closing (the CD version of) Pop Ambient 2021 with a long, lambent dreamsong, Neozaïre offering us two gaseous, morphing driftworks, “Vor den Toren Europas” and “In Verschwenderischer Fülle” (CD only), etched across with bell-like arpeggios.
Pop Ambient has always felt like a field for play for the KOMPAKT cognoscenti, and 2021 is no different, with Joachim Spieth collaborating with Pepo Galán on the sidereal visions of “Libration”, while Leandro Fresco teams up with Thore Pfeiffer on the lovely “Abejorro”. Pfeiffer also contributes two lovely solo miniatures of abstract longing. Yui Onodera calls in again, long distance, for their fourth Pop Ambient running, with the refracted, glinting lightscapes of “Cromo 5” and “Monochrome”, while there are also star turns from Max Würden, both solo and in Reich & Würden (with Luis Reichard), and Morgen Wurde, who drops by with the ‘ethereal drama’ of “Mittsommer”.
Pop Ambient gets the balance right: visions and soundscapes, long-distance communications and intimate asides, sweetness and light, drama and dreaming, all wrapped up in floral abstractions – a most beautiful distraction.