It is tremendously rare that four consecutive albums by an artist are considered equally important and aesthetically pleasing. Wolfgang Voigt, however, achieved just that on the Mille Plateaux label with his Gas project, of which Pop, released in 2000, is the final piece. Each of the four artifacts has certain distinctive qualities and different concepts: Gas of 1996 merges a synth-driven loftiness with deliciously encapsulating synth washes, Zauberberg of 1997 is an orchestra string-heavy journey through an acroamatic, tremendously dusky thicket, Königsforst of 1999 paints the brightly illuminated German yearning for the revitalizing aura of the woods, and Pop of 2000 sets the first stone of an entirely new subgenre building that is still alive and well: Pop Ambient. The seven tracks of Pop are strictly speaking just five, as two out of the seven tracks are remixed, slightly altered and enhanced. But even though this is the case, Pop is a good indicator of the stylistic dobs that surfaced after this release, as it offers a wide stylistic variety … and the most gorgeous, presumably (!) easy-to-achieve two-note synth superimpositions that ever entered the world of Gas.

Pop 1 opens the disc with a particular kind of synth washes that couldn't be found in a Gas track before: they are syrupy-saccharine, wonderfully melodious and creamy. The incessantly repeated loop has a rather long duration of about 20 seconds. The various textures glow and gleam, but best of all, they contain a relaxing depth because they aren't played in show tune-like higher regions, but meander along in a humble way, only to be traversed by juxtaposed staccato clicks which are blurred themselves and thus as silky as the permanent washes. Compared to previous Gas tracks, I would describe the evoked mood as cautiously euphoric. Only Königsforst 6 depicts this feeling a tad better, but actually mixes it with pompousness and a feeling of wideness due to the bold bagpipe sections that float through the whole scenery. However, Pop 1 only marks the beginning, as there is another, much brighter and more upbeat incarnation of its loop found in Pop 2 that was also belatedly featured on the Pop Ambient 2004 compilation under the simple name Pop. Its qualities are indeed breathtaking: the formerly blurry clicks are sped up and mimic flowing water. The same can be said about the warm synth loop which is equally pitched up and shimmers even more, revealing a glimpse of a rhythmic synth burst; the tone of the melody rises for about a second, but the burst is similar enough to the remaining textures that it doesn't destroy the carefully crafted balance. A three-note melody, possibly played on a horn instrument, is deeply embedded and yet seems to be towering above the faux water streams and the repetitive synth eruptions. With all previous Gas albums in mind, one cannot believe the sweetness and superb flow of happiness and contentment that the couple of Pop 1 and Pop 2 create.

After the swirling melodies, Pop 3 is purposefully reduced, but thick enough to allow a waddled listening experience. Slightly melancholic, deliciously hazy two-note synth sweeps are the base frame of the track. Higher horn-like melodies traverse the setting all the while bubbling splutters and fuzzy crackles suggest a flowing stream of contentment and sumptuousness. The loop is approximately 22 seconds long and fills the whole runtime of over seven minutes, but it never gets boring. I want to stress that Pop 3 paints the good kind of bolstered melancholia, it inherits a positive yearning for something worthwhile. Similar to the Alltag 1–4  EP that Voigt delivered under his alias All, Pop 3 is entirely positive and resplendent without a single cloud. It is as if the frightening darkness of Zauberberg never existed. It's easy to believe that Pop is made by the same artist, but hard to grasp that a track like this is so far away stylistically from his previous work. Another misty piece of beauty. It is only on the lively Pop 4 that the pumping bass drums are introduced, namely in 6/8 time. A two-note synth motif similar to Pop 3, but much more convivial, is merged with golden shimmering synth stabs of two kinds, filtered swells and downfalls, high-flying synth bursts of pure bliss akin to Pop 2 and for the fourth time the transfiguration of pulsating water. This is a great track for workout as its hypnotic repetition works marvelously in changing surroundings, for example while you're running. 

Pop 5 is similarly structured like Pop 3, but there is no melancholia this time rather than two-note synth sweeps that create a thermal heat. Everything on this track is sizzling-hot; instead of liquid water streams, one hears pink noise in the background – gas! This is a masterful Drone tune, for even the tonal changes of the two-note melody are only slightly noticeable, and there are no other curlicues or clicks. Voigt's most monotonous Ambient track ever released as Gas is tremendously tranquilizing and cozy, its duration of almost eleven minutes tiresome, but in a positive, mesmeric way. Supposedly it is so laughably easy to come up with such a reduced setting, right? I beg to differ, for it is actually harder to face a deliberate reduction than a magnanimous addition of layers. After this track, Voigt kisses the mellifluous warmth goodbye and delivers a pitch-perfect mélange of his three previous albums with Pop 6 and Pop 7. The former is based on yet another two-note drone, but the textures are very heavy, evoke a pernicious mood that reminds immediately of his Zauberberg album. Here, however, the baleful mood isn't caused by orchestra strings. It's the synth brethren that accomplish this, and so the track harks back to his debut Gas of 1996. In a way, the glaringly red Pop 6 would be even more monotonous than Pop 5, but since the synth washes are trembling and quavering, one can get lost in this track, and at the same time be fascinated of the misty textures. The song fades out very slowly and makes room for the final Pop 7. A remix of Pop 6 – the same way as Pop 2 was a remix of Pop 1 – with a deeply embedded 4/4 bass line and the enormous runtime of over 15 minutes, Pop 7 marks the album-related finish line of the Gas moniker. Nothing much changes at the first glance, though the pulses of pink noise and the whole synth superstructure seem to shake frantically after eight minutes or so. The beats wane during the penultimate minute and let the track end in the same way as Pop 6. And so a coruscating album ends on a demonic note.

Pop is the last album, the missing piece of the puzzle. Warmth enters the canon of Gas. In the first five songs the warmth is comforting and relaxing. In the last two tracks, it is boiling hot, ebullient and eerie. In a way, Pop is an unlikely name for a Gas album in relation to the preceding material. And yet it forms a great counterpoint to both the orchestral Zauberberg and Königsforst and offers a synth-driven continuation of the airy compositions found in his debut Gas. Of course, Voigt's blueprint of the term pop has next to nothing to do with general conventions. The eclectic, densely layered kind of two-note synth backings is too feisty for Pop songs of all sorts, and yet are the saccharine- and syrup-related similarities striking, as Voigt carves joyful, eupeptic tracks that takes the concept of Ambient to a new level and leads to an entirely new genre: Pop Ambient, unsurprisingly. From this point on, Voigt has reached everything with his Gas moniker, only reactivating it occasionally for a few Pop Ambient entries or for special projects like his artbook of 2008 which contains previously unreleased tracks. Pop is either the harmonious conclusion of his complete work as Gas – considering the baneful Pop 6 and Pop 7 – or an unfitting venture into glitzy realms in order to make his music more accessible to followers of lachrymose buildups, whoever those might be. I've read various reviews that allow both interpretations. Since this particular album opened the way for a new kind of mellow Ambient music, I am naturally keen on speaking of Pop in the most colorful and glorious terms. It is a great conclusion and the first step into a new future. The Kompakt label was co-founded by Voigt shortly after the release of Pop, and since the last two arrangements Pop 6 and Pop 7 are much darker, he leaves the door open for darker interpretations that can still be considered Pop. It is as important as his other three albums, each with distinct qualities and moods. All four albums are recollected in Nah Und Fern, and it is rare for me to say that one needs to own all albums of an artist. You should not skip any of those, by all means. The future is as unclear as Voigt's loops are blurry, but I believe the importance of all four works will continue to grow, as new contemporary listeners encounter and experience the messages and overarching concepts of Gas. So utterly recommended!




Ambient Review 131: Gas – Pop (2000). Originally published on Oct. 10, 2012 at