Pop, Wolfgang Voigt’s final dispatch as Gas, was the starting-off point. Voigt has now curated 10-plus years worth of these annual comps, collecting new tracks (from an increasingly familiar cast of artists) that anchor their atmospheric electro-explorations in rhythm, if not in a beat, making mid-winter a bit more tolerable for fans of, and dabblers in, this sort of biz.
What it lacks in alarms and surprises, Pop Ambient 2012 makes up for in consistency, complexity and gradual growth. Earlier issues introduced acts such as Popnoname, The Fun Years and The Field – this one is mostly Voigt and his old pals. Earlier issues contained stunning capsules of tension and beauty – this one’s standout charmers are more sweet-’n’-sour (Triola’s understated psychodrama “Richmodis,” Simon Scott’s mournful “For Martha”) and subtle (the elegant closer “Riding the Bikes,” credited to Loops of Your Heart, a.k.a. The Field’s Axel Willner). Superpitcher makes his Pop Ambient debut with the soaring AM-gold deconstruction “Jackson.”
Not to say there aren’t incidents of weirdness and intensity. The muffled power chords of Mohn’s “Manifesto” sound pretty fucking grand, and although it’s created by the usual cats (Voigt and Jörg Burger), their new project adds arena-rock bombast to their private lexicon with encouraging results. Voigt’s contribution under his own name may be his most bizarre creation yet, an organic-sounding, superficially arrhythmic hodgepodge that recalls nothing so much as early Blacklight Braille. Those are some cool exceptions.
The rest is more about documenting the gradual evolution of Voigt’s genre as it continues to encroach on the outside world. Rock acts including Deerhunter and Broken Social Scene were cribbing these ideas long before their fans recognized what they were doing. One of our favorite records from last year operated squarely inside the pop-ambient framework. Voigt and his crew have been around long enough to become quite respectable, and they’ll only grow more powerful. For those not fully immersed, any mid-winter is a fine time to get started.