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V/A - Popol Vuh: Revisited & Remixed (1970 - 1999)

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Artist: V/A

Album: Popol Vuh: Revisited & Remixed (1970 - 1999)

Label: SPV

Review date: Jul. 25, 2011

It’s surprising to me that searching for Popol Vuh in the Dusted archives returns no results. The Munich trio is undoubtedly one of the core acts in our canon, with an astonishing back catalog rich enough to showcase its early experiments with kraut, prog and ambient on through to the Werner Herzog soundtracks and some of New Age’s most tolerable moments.

With two decades of material to sort through, the task of a compilation encompassing the group’s “sound” has never been easy. On the 10th anniversary of founder Florian Fricke’s death and following a box set from earlier this year, the SPV label has seen fit to try the introductory approach once more with a whole second disc of remixes as bait.

The only real trouble with a compilation like Revisited & Remixed: 1970 - 1999 is that Popol Vuh went through a number of incarnations over its nearly two decades, and a proper homage could hardly be more difficult. The first disc is solid, culling material from the trio’s earliest works (Affenstunde’s 15-minute title track appears as the second song) and ignoring some of the awkward, dated later works (For Me and You is represented by the 57-second “In Your Eyes,” if that tells you anything). Great stuff all around, but also totally subjective – Popol Vuh is a group where you find your favorite material and work outward. It’s implicit in this collection that no compilation of their music could ever be good enough. “It is what it is” is a trite, profoundly stupid thing to say, but it applies here. The shrug is for the selection rather than the music itself.

The second disc can’t be judged on these same merits. Eleven artists stretching the album out to well over an hour could have been a disaster. I feared a rut of tossed-off drivel or painfully repetitive club jams despite the standard of remixers present. What I found instead was a disc as varied as the first that does great justice to the band being honored. Moritz von Oswald (sans Trio for the first time in a dog’s age, it seems), Stereolab, Mouse on Mars, Tim Hecker – these are some of the names working with source material like “Schnee” and “Gärten Pharaos.” Peter Kruder’s deep house edit of “Aguirre I / II” starts things off, and its fantastic seven-plus minutes thrive on a distant pulse, slight drum rolls, and searing synths. It’s a pulse-quickening song that sets the tone perfectly for what follows.

Thomas Fehlmann’s Flow edit of “Schnee” is less dark but similar in approach. It’s when vocals on A Critical Mass’s rework of “Heart of Glass” and Alex Barck’s ascending “Haram Dei Haram Dei” mix switch things up that the disc really starts to come together as an experience. Mika Vainio’s stuttering ambient edit of “Nachts Schnee” is as moving as anything he’s done recently (though I haven’t yet heard Life (…It Eats You Up)). The clear standout is Mouse On Mars, though I mean that less for its quality and more for its aesthetic: The duo’s 8-bit take on “Through Pain to Heaven” is aggressive and strikingly out of place, yet I still found myself returning to it as much as the rest of the disc.

If you hadn’t told me these songs were sourced from Popol Vuh, I’m not sure I would’ve known. Such is both the power of Fricke’s music – the freedom to evoke specific moods without explicitly detailing them is what makes much of the catalog so timeless – and the keen ears of the selected remixers. Usually you look at an album and the remixes are identified as the bonus disc. In this case, surprisingly and pleasingly, the opposite is true.

By Patrick Masterson

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