The holiday season: that time of the year when Christmas jingles and undertones of compulsory cheer creep into even life's most mundane chores. Amid all the marketing mirth, though, comes a more welcome, welcoming year-end tradition: the annual arrival of a new Pop Ambient compilation from Kompakt.
Each year since the turn of the millennium, the German record label known for progressive dancefloor fare drops the tempo and magnifies the beautiful possibilities of electronic music. Contributions from experimental new jacks and respected soundscape veterans abound. The latest installment, issued this week, includes electroacoustic composer Stephan Mathieu and merry pranksters The Orb, among many others. But it omits Durham's own beguiling new Calapse—though perhaps he has the goods for a later entry.
The best candidate for such placement comes about midway through You Know How I Feel, the lush little debut LP of dreamy sonics and alluring noise from rock-band drummer and electronic producer Reed Benjamin. (Disclosure: Benjamin is the web content manager at the INDY; he had no input in assigning or editing this review.) Chasing the Kraftwerk-like buzz of "Funeral," the effectively beatless "Sanctuary" cleanses the palate with a jaunty piano plonk, stretched into a tumescent organ swell. Also evinced by the backwards juke of "Forget That" and the pastoral hiccups of "If I Fly," Benjamin delights in devising seemingly simple pop melodies only to then drag them merrily through the digital dirt, dinging and warping them in the process.
Benjamin's work here resides at a familiar albeit uncompromising midpoint between nightclub accessibility and avant radicalism. Admittedly, there's nothing all that new about operating in this particular sphere. Contemporary sound designers like Oneohtrix Point Never and The Haxan Cloak have discovered ways to turn artistic intransigence into chin-scratching music that sports a curiously broad appeal.
You Know How I Feel likely won't match the same level of critical awe as those two artists' recent work, as they've been at it longer and landed prominent label placements. But Calapse's softer touch continues a respected tradition of blending the organic with the electronic. The looping gull caws of "Decrescent" transmute into soothing birdsong alongside the kick-snare gallop, only to succumb to sanguine synth stabs and mammalian vocal mumble. As the track inches toward its close, the sounds disintegrate, like a beach scene dissipating into digital noise. Thinking forward, Benjamin has no patience for a romantic reprise.