Some albums prove harder to write about than others, for reasons that aren’t always easy to fathom. Others, though, seem purposely designed as hard to pin down: a case in point being Kompakt’s latest “Pop Ambient 2010” comp, which I’ve been listening to a lot for a couple of months now. How do you articulate what music sounds like that exists in such a neutral, undemonstrative space?
A lot of quasi-ambient music I’ve covered here has been of the vaguely kosmische kind: not least some of the Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds albums from last year, which I’ve also been playing a fair bit this past few weeks. With those sort of records, there’s always an easy – perhaps too easy – psychedelic gloss that can be applied, some easyish references to Klaus Schulze and so on.
The ambience which Kompakt generally supports, though, is more slivery, environmental: the label co-founder Wolfgang Voigt’s own project was long called Gas, which describes much here rather well (though not Voigt’s own contribution, “Zither Und Horn”, curiously, which is more of a ghostly, lopsided refraction of a German folk song). The roots of a lot of this stuff are in that post-clubbing, early ‘90s school of ambient, and as if to reinforce the point there’s even a track from The Orb, “Glen Coe”, which has a familiar sense of exalted numbness (and dazed dialogue samples) that suggests Alex Paterson has been frozen in aspic for the best part of two decades.
As with the best comps of this kind, however, it’s hard to pick out – or indeed remember – most of the individual tracks without unsuitably attentive study of the tracklisting. Then, the odd one stands out, like Jurgen Paape’s “864M”, which reminds me happily of the endphase of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” with its serenely looping waveforms. There appears to be a noisy clock in the distance here, too, and it’s a tribute to the artists on “Pop Ambient 2010” that they seem adept at making so much twinkling, enveloping music with such a time-honoured palette of what are, in many cases, total ambient clichés.
Brock Van Wey/BVDub is another case in point, with two tracks here, the second of which – “Will You Know Where To Find Me” – ends up stretching out a wordlessly ecstatic female vocal into a cycling chorale; a deep house meditation disc, after a fashion. It lasts 17 minutes and, as is the traditional thing to say when finishing this sort of piece, it might as well go on forever.