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Various Artists: Pop Ambient 2011

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Album: Pop Ambient 2011

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The Cologne label Kompakt became an institution by formalizing everything about German techno to the hilt, from minimalism in sound and presentation to its pair of annual series dedicated to the label’s dance tracks (Total) and after-hours wooze. There has never been a great Pop Ambient, but there hasn’t been a terrible one, either, and the 2011 edition is no exception. If there’s a big difference this time around, it’s that the music has a darker tinge than usual—starting with the lead cut, by ANBB, experimental composer Alva Noto and Einstürzende Neubauten leader Blixa Bargeld, who evoke a dark night on the North Pole (with some singing, in German, at the end). There are similar goth touches on some of the other material as well, such as Bvdub’s “Make The Pain Go Away,” which is reminiscent of 4AD and shoegaze at their most aquatic, and Crato’s “20.6.1881,” a sinister, almost subliminal drone built from layers of dank atmosphere that’s the most menacing cut in Pop Ambient’s history—and one of the best.