Review: Pop Ambient 2018

Pop Ambient 2018
4 out of 5 stars

As Pop Ambient 2018 hits the shops, a small, nagging question can’t help but arise: Do we really need another installment of the Kompakt label’s annual collection of soothing mood pieces? After nearly 20 editions, hasn’t the series said everything there is to say about its meditative brand of tunes? It would be hard to argue that this latest edition, once again compiled by Kompakt co-leader Wolfgang Voigt, brings anything truly new to the series, or that it provides any major twist — which is another way to say that the compilation, as always, is brimming with atmospheric, hugely evocative music.

There’s a hushed intimacy to much of Pop Ambient 2018 — each shudder and swoon can induce a wealth of feelings — but that intimacy is often molded into something approaching grandeur. On both “Prism” and “Nine Chains to The Moon,” both from Yui Onodera, slowly unfolding orchestral melodies elicit imagery of a grand vista, just coming into view as the mist lifts. Chuck Johnson’s “Brahmi” delivers a similar effect via its spectral shimmers and gliding steel-pedal accents, while on Würden & Pfeiffer’s aptly named “Panorama,” fluttering washes of sound and a wistful horn conjure up a sunrise over a spring meadow.

Related: The Orb’s Dr. Alex Paterson shares favorite Pop Ambient tracks

Occasionally, an ever-so-slight hint of rhythmic propulsion comes along to sharpen the soft-focus feel of these songs, as on Kaito’s “Travelled Between Souls,” where sweeping pads are punctuated by gentle percussive flourishes. “Disinclined to Vacate,” from electronic-music polymath Kenneth James Gibson, plays like a dreamland lullaby, its gently spiraling synth line rising through the clouds before reaching its bittersweet, all-too-brief coda. The Orb provides the album’s most propulsive track (granted, that’s not saying much in this company) via “Sky Falling,” with desert-moon drumming underpinning a stream of scraping textures, gracefully chiming keys, and what sounds like a particularly languid sax.

The term glacial is often employed to describe the kind of music that Pop Ambient focuses on, but that’s only half right. It’s an apt description of the pacing of these tracks — it’s the kind of music that derives its allure through placid ebb and flow, rather than angular shifts. But temperature-wise, it’s anything but icy — there’s a resonating warmth to these tunes that’s almost reflexively appealing. We may not need another installment of Pop Ambient — but as always, it comes as a welcome respite, as a soothing sanctuary from life’s turmoil.

Review: Lindstrøm – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is

Lindstrom It's Alright Between Us As It Is

4.5 out of 5 stars

A blast of shimmering sounds opens from the title track of It’s Alright Between Us begins the first album in five years from Hans-Peter Lindstrøm. Before you know it, the minimal disco crackle of “Spire” blasts us into orbit with rhythms that keep on building, setting the tone for the whole album.

Lindstrøm has built a reputation as an artist who creates beautiful electronic music that will set your soul alight. There is even more of a blissful quality to the music on It’s Alright Between Us As It Is, especially on songs like “Tensions,” the sweeping euphoria of “Drift” and the mid-album interlude “Versatile Dreams.”

There are a number of vocal-led tracks that make the album sound even more blissful. The vocalists that he’s chosen are definitely inspired: Swedish chanteuse Frida Sundemo graces “But Isn’t It” with her glacial and beautiful vocals; “Shinin” features American singer Grace Hall (who has worked with Lindstrøm in the past and should do so more often) for a song that would captivate any dance floor with its infectious energy; and Norwegian Jenny Hval lends her unique vocals to “Bungl (Like A Ghost)” for a track that is full of intrigue as well as charm.

The glittering funk of “Under Trees” closes the album on a high note, breaking through and reaching a crescendo. It sounds amazing and couldn’t have ended the album better.

The main strength of It’s Alright Between Us As It Is is not only the blissful and life-affirming nature of the music but just how rounded an album it is. As the cold nights draw in, put this album on and it will warm your body, mind and soul in no time at all.

Review: Re.You – Work It Now

Re.You - Work It Now
4 out of 5 stars

Re.You, the proprietor of Younion, consistently decimates dance floors by way of his dark, brooding tech-house productions for labels like mobilee and Moon Harbour. “Work It Now” finds the Berlin resident reconnecting with Cacao Records after lending his remix touch to K.E.E.N.E.’s Bocaracá EP issued in the spring.

The Work It Now EP shows us more sides of Re.You’s musical personality. For starters, the title track is unadulterated deep-house manna. It’s set atop a smoldering bedrock of soulful vocal loops, heady filters and a groove that won’t quit.

Jeudi boss Doctor Dru transforms “Work It Now” for the big room, edging up the tempo and building up suspense and drama. Tiefschwarz’s iteration goes in the opposite direction, with Berlin-based brothers Ali and Basti Schwarz reimagining the track as a stripped-down tech-house dalliance.

The EP is rounded out by “Mlu,” a hypnotic loop of tribal chants and beats. It’s a wickedly good mixing tool from an artist who’s at the top of his game.

Review: Layton Giordani feat. Danny Tenaglia – Live Again

Layton Giordani feat Danny Tenaglia Live Again Drumcode

3.5 out of 5 stars

Rising Big Apple DJ/producer Layton Giordani continues to grow his international reputation. Notoriety came relatively soon after he presented “Careless Suggestions” on Phobiq Records in 2014. Since then he’s released ripping tech-house tracks on Intec and debuted earlier this year on Drumcode by way of the seismic bomb known as “Where It Begins.”

Giordani, who cut his teeth working the decks at Manhattan Meatpacking Mecca Cielo and shuttered spots like Pacha and Sullivan Room (RIP), couldn’t possibly return to Drumcode in a bigger way than with NYC hard n’ soul legend Danny Tenaglia at his side on “Live Inside.” A major influence on Giordani’s sound, the track is quintessential Tenaglia at the core — deep, dark and deliciously dirty — with Giordani’s trademark groove anchoring the production.

The EP is rounded out by two worthy cuts: Firstly, there’s “Take It Back” is a dramatic rollercoaster ride of banging beats, ethereal female vocal snippets and undulating bass. Secondly, “Secrets of Vibration” is a cracking percussive track. Its only flaw is the inclusion of a clichéd self-help vocal sample. (Producers, I’m calling for a moratorium on this type of dance floor chum — who’s with me?)

What’s next for Layton Giordani? Place your bets on world domination.