Kompakt have always been peerless when it comes to label compilations. Granted, it's not the most competitive of fields. Usually labels just put out an incongruous smorgasbord of tracks selected from their current roster with seemingly little thought given to how they actually fit together. In fact, Kompakt aside, the only label comp I still listen to is Anticon's marvellous “1999-2004” retrospective, which documented the peak of that label's existence in a truly fluid and original way.
Kompakt comps are a different kettle of fish, though. Rather than harking back to past glories or hawking future releases to the listener, the tracklisting generally features exclusives that haven't been released elsewhere. The more upbeat techno and disco numbers appear on the “Kompakt Total” series in the summer, while ambient, ‘home-listening’ efforts are compiled on “Pop Ambient” every winter. It's a unique way to showcase their output, and both are usually equally essential.
The Field, a.k.a. Axel Willner, has been one of their defining artists since first appearing in 2005. Though his début came about seven years after the label’s inception, his woozily euphoric loop-based workouts fit Kompakt’s trademark lush, minimal sound perfectly. And though his three albums so far have tended towards the “Total” side of things, he's contributed to several “Pop Ambient” compilations too.
Loops Of Your Heart is the moniker Willner has now chosen to represent this aspect of his creativity. Interestingly, though his first track under this name appeared on last month’s “Pop Ambient” collection, the album is actually being released by another electronic label from Cologne: Magazine. This fledging imprint appears to be developing a sound that blends Germany's minimal/electronic present with its cosmic krautrock past – their first EP was from a new electronic super-group called Cologne Tape (featuring Willner himself), but their first album release introduced Drums Off Chaos, a collective led by original Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit.
Their second album is Willner's “And Never Ending Nights”, and just as he's previously characterized Kompakt, here he follows Magazine's formula. Rejecting his usual tools in favour of a variety of vintage synths, the result is an album that could've almost been released thirty years ago. The influence of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, the men behind Cluster and Harmonia, looms large throughout. In fact, the soft, drawn-out synths and occasional lingering guitar line almost cross over into parody.
Luckily, it also never stops sounding like Axel Willner either. The pitch-bending washes of opening track “Little You, You Should Develop” lack only the techno beat that would take them into The Field, whereas the beautiful “Cries” would've made a perfect coda to last year's magnificent “Looping State Of Mind”.
The retro-centric tracks tend to be more cinematic. “End” in particular sounds like it should be accompanied by super-8 shots of water rippling in some isolated tributary of the Rhine. Elsewhere, “Broken Bow” begins with repeated electronic gong banging over snarling bass, bringing to mind sinister seventies sci-fi films, before a drum machine kicks in and sends the tempo scurrying upwards until it sounds like “Selected Ambient Works”-era Aphex Twin scoring a “Blade Runner” chase scene. Yet Willner never totally departs from more human elements – on “Neukölln” you can faintly hear the sound of children playing outside his studio.
All of this could be dismissed as a simple period piece, a reverential tribute to the kosmiche electronic music still inspiring today. Yet even if you're sick of retrogressive artists constantly reversing through the decades to find something new to rip off, here you have to at least admire its authenticity. Magazine may not have the established prestige of Kompakt, but if they can continue to mine the Krautrock era this successfully, they'll carve out a tasty niche that can't be dismissed as mere pastiche. For Willner, meanwhile, this provides a pleasing “Pop Ambient” alternative to his celebrated “Total” output.