Winter Ambient Collection





Ah, what a poetic title for an album: Winter Ambient Collection by Copenhagen-bred Lennart Krarup aka Ibizarre, released on the humble Xtravaganza Recordings label in 1997, features ten tracks that depict the chilled landscapes of enchanted forests, mountains and the occasional trip to an island. The problem: only the very last location of the preceding sentence is visited due to its implied aesthetics, for the artist's name Ibizarre and the year of its release give you a very good clue where this album is heading. It is all about a mild winter in Ibiza, and seriously, if the term Winter was crossed out in the title and substituted with Summer, I would not have raised a brow at all. This is not the only strange assertion to make in terms of the title, as that genre called Ambient, one of the two nuclei of AmbientExotica, is treated very differently on this release. Instead of a multitude of Drone layers, Ibizarre favors rapturous synth washes – a rightful inclusion – in close proximity to various kinds of downbeat, several different percussion layers and synthetic instruments whose rhizomatic radicles are usually thriving in New Age realms. Seriously, if you recall the various Chill Out compilations that flooded the market at the end of the 90's, you instinctively know what to expect, although Ibizarre was admittedly one of the first artists to reside in that sugar-heavy genre. So what to make of this album? How should I treat it? The answer is surprisingly multifaceted, as there is the occasional gem included. And besides: this review truly serves as a peek behind the curtain or over the horizon to a very different way of treating the Ambient genre. And for this reason alone, I deem Winter Ambient Collection valuable. With these thoughts in mind, I am trying to unravel a winterly core.


Funky wah-wah guitar twangs with a warped smudgy Space-Age reel effect at their decay, glittering cymbals, deep bass melodies and silkened shakers: La Isla Blanca does not comprise of the usual ingredients found in Ambient tracks. Its track title hints at a slacking approach, and indeed is this – as well as the majority of Ibizarre's other tracks – only an Ambient track if you apply the Balearic way of life to its scheme. There are, however, proper features interwoven such as dreamy synth washes and elastic boings and bubbles. Over the course of seven minutes, not much changes, no surprising effects are added. Given the intended audience of after-hour ravers, La Isla Blanca is as mellow as can be. Lazy Living takes things even farther by unleashing a rustic Italo piano sunburst in-between another layer of cowbell-interspersed wah-wah guitars, Brazilian percussive fizzles and silky synth strings. Where is the winter theme? It is definitely not in here, at least not in the clichéd form of snowflakes and white landscapes. While the overly long Café Dub boosts the depth with entrancing synth pads in lower tone regions, a hair-raising acid hook and gyrating golden synth pads, Retreat To The Forest is the first track that actually depicts a winterly landscape thanks to Ibizarre's glacial synth work. The upbeat breakbeat rhythm in tandem with the percussion layers may at first seem counterintuitive, but a certain majesty and genuine catchiness cannot be denied. The saccharine mood of Ibiza is exchanged for an enthralling scent of fir sprigs. Of particular access is the scintillating aorta of glitzy molecules which illuminates the thicket of the implied forest.


The following Float is a syrupy Mediterranean Lounge track with ethereal synth streams, staccato snares, elastically wobbling basslines and echoey shakers. Despite its lack of catchy synth pad-accentuated melodies, the late Chill-Out 90's are all over this track. Beware if you have outgrown this phase or never liked it anyway. It is giving me the creeps, but your mileage may vary. Whereas Melancholia actually lives up to its name by mediating between thermal heat and ethereality, but fails severely and eternally due to the nerve-racking synthetic pan flute melody and artificial pizzicato strings, the auspiciously titled Dreambird accomplishes a greater, solemn scope due to the bird cries, the aqueously oscillating synth droplets and the kitschy but superbly over-the-top sitar synths. Hey, I'm also an Exotica fan, I can't help it! Dreambird impresses due to its shape-shifting form. The beats and backing synths are loop-based, sure, but each additional pattern and melody is unique. Night In Balafia is another glaring pan flute track which disqualifies it in my eyes right from the get-go. This time, it is probably my loss, as both the glacial percussion and the thin trombone-resembling accents make this another Oriental track. I'm not even asking anymore about the feeling of winter. And still, the following track The Aeon is it: the first and only proper beatless Ambient track. Heav(enl)y whale song-resembling space fiddles and snugly synth washes boost the New Age factor and marry it with Prog Rock guitars, creating a becalming mood overall. The outro Nadir is another dichotomous marker, as a dreamy acid line whirrs through a handclap-focused percussion layer and thin strings. Since these strings are less dreamy rather than unexpectedly spy theme-evoking, I am willed to count Nadir to the genuine winterly tracks.


I don't know what to make of Ibizarre's Winter Ambient Collection. If I look deep down into my heart, it tells me that the title is double deceptive: neither is this a proper Ambient album, regardless of whether you apply the Pop Ambient, Drone or Glitch subgenres to it, nor is the mood even distantly winterly on the majority of the tracks. The work of Lennart Krarup is nonetheless no picayune Chill Out compilation of quickly cut material; it is crystal clear that this is one of these albums I only rarely review due to their style being largely incompatible with the genres mentioned above. There must be, however, still people who are very fond of these sunset-evoking island grooves Ibizarre comes up with. But I cannot link the album title to the selected material for the life of it! Considering this cleft in the concept, Winter Ambient Collection is a trip down memory lane, at least potentially so, and therefore has an overarching value of its own: Retreat To The Forest is the synergetic hallmark of this album, displaying gorgeous synth hooks, blissful textures and – yes indeed – a gelid aura. Dreambird is a second contender due to its galactic bird calls and an ever-changing pattern of various melodies floating by. The synth washes, pads and streams are usually quite delicate on each of the tracks, but there are elements which do not work in this context, especially so the horrifying New Age pan flute and the quirky acid hooks that are placed too much upfront in a supposed Ambient work. The overly polished and clinically sterile production values are equally feared by Ambient listeners who favor a slightly rougher mix. All in all, there is anything wrong with Winter Ambient Collection if the listener can relate to the missing winterly atmosphere and thus the wrong album title, and if he or she can (still) take that late 90's feeling and the memories of the hundreds of Chill Out compilations that were thrown at the market. And hell, it might even provide a great entry point for weekend dancers into a generally beatless genre. Every Drone lover and Glitch expert, please avoid this album. It is simply not intended for your use.




Ambient Review 162: Ibizarre – Winter Ambient Collection (1997). Originally published on Dec. 26, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.