Markus Guentner






The follow-up of Markus Guentner's In Moll was released in 2005 on Kompakt Records, four years after his solo debut. It's called 1981, contains 8 tracks and is named after Guentner's birthyear. Since In Moll remains close to my heart due to its enormous synth structures and bright hooks. Each and every track features heavy reverberations and melodious structures in minor. However, In Moll splendidly worked as an album, for all songs, while featuring peculiarities on their own, also worked in tandem, so that once the listener finished the album, he or she would feel the remaining sustain of their unison. Put simply, In Moll wasn't just a collection of random Ambient tunes, but an LP that was and still is close to a perfect album. It offers variety, and yet the untitled tracks are glued together, somehow belonging to each other. 1981, alas, doesn't inherit the spirits of In Moll. While the compositions are utterly beautiful and gorgeous – one of my all-time favorite Ambient tracks is on 1981 –, the album lacks an overarching formula or topic. I'm simply not clever enough to distill it from the tracks. To make things worse, there are a few 6/8 dance tracks included, for Guentner cannot be reduced to his Ambient side solely, as he is also a prolific composer of club-friendly music with a pinch of Deep House elements. That he merges these distinct genres in 1981 is a rather bad but nonetheless understandable idea, for the Ambient style is broken by the pumping tracks that in the end are probably as important to Guentner as his Ambient works. Still, in my opinion, 1981 doesn't succeed in mimicking the album formula mentioned above. Is it thus a bad release? Not in the slightest, and you would miss some very mellifluous, lushly pulsating Ambient tracks with multiple layers and shimmering textures. On their own, the tracks are splendid and carefully crafted. I rather see them as micro universes that don't merge with each other. Read my track-by-track description to see if I match your opinion.

Wanderung (which means hike in German) starts with wind noises and slowly introduces a warm, sunlight-encapsulating two-note synth string. Its multiple textures intertwine darkness with brighter elements, and once dubby basslines, electronic cymbals, popping clicks and glistening synth whirls are added and the wind noise is gone, this song is a beautiful, but reduced song. Guentner could turn up the loudness of the synths a notch, but since this is the first track off 1981, the carefully fragile setting is done on purpose. The percussion, in the end, is as placid as the synths are soothing, and this mixture pretty much expresses Guentner's new focus on percussive elements in Amient music. The over 9 minute long Wenn Musik Der Liebe Nahrung Ist (roughly translatable to If music is love's nutrition) starts with eschatological synth pulses that are looped constantly. While the mood is rather dark, the added ingredients like brightly sparkling melody fragments and more harmonious synth backings dampen the eeriness – what has been a bit gloomy at the beginning of the track turns out to be a deep flow now. A surprising element, at least in a Guentner Ambient track, is the inclusion of aah-aah singing voices. I'm not sure whether it's Guentner's or a tweaked synth choir voice, but the song reaches a minute-long high point with all introduced devices playing together, creating a monotonous but ever-pulsating tune of organic resemblance that is further amplified by glitch artifacts such as percussive clicks and crackles. Up next is Jellyfish which is one of the aforementioned 6/8 beat tracks with a sternly pumping beat, whirling synth washes and beat-backing synth pads. All in all, it's a deep tune that is enhanced by chirping synth fragments and which surely isn't wrong in a workout playlist. It is only at the end when the beat fades out that the listener is able to grasp the actual beauty of the manifold tracks in the background. Somehow you can call this an Ambient-like track, but again, the pumping beat is probably an unwanted element for a lot of people, me included. Hi-Jacked is even worse in this regard by presenting ginormously thumping, highly club-compatible beats, harsh-sounding synth backings and acid-like drone loops whose aggressiveness make this the obviously weakest track … for Ambient fans. The dance-hungry folks will see it vice versa and will praise the track for its no-compromise approach and its stark minimal setup. In contrast to Jellyfish, there's not even a glint of a soothingly whirling string to be found. And while Kompakt didn't advertise 1981 as an Ambient album, it certainly is meant to be digested as one, for 6-7 songs out of 8 lure the listener into fuzzy clouds of contentment.

Luckily, the second half of the album starts in the most gorgeous way with an all-time favorite of mine:
Sommergewitter (meaning summer thunderstorm) is a glaringly glowing, iridescent and coruscating sparkle of a tune. A pompously warm synth string is faded in. It oscillates between different keys while synthetic, marimba-like wind chimes accompany the vibrant stream of happiness. This stream flows, changes and lives due to Guentner's extreme care in terms of its modulations and pulses. And that's all there is to say about the tune. Indeed, the best tune of the album can only be described rudimentarily. If there is one song off 1981 you should check out, pick Sommergewitter. There are no rumblings or thunders, just pure warmth. Wholeheartedly recommended! I am also quite fond of the remaining three tracks, for they are proper Ambient songs as well. While Umgebung (surrounding) picks up the wind chime thread of Sommergewitter and merges these glinting devices with dark Atomic Age drones and terrifically deep basslines, Der Wüstenplanet (probably named after the Sci-Fi novel Dune) moves to the hottest territories with multiple sizzling hot synth layers, splendid clicks plus bass bursts and occasional moments of fragility when a few layers are reduced temporarily. The final Hotel Shanghai closes the album on a melancholic note with a sustained two-note melody. Spectral pulses are added and the now familiar element of diverse clicks is featured one last time as well. Even though melancholia is an important emotion, the song is as boldly texturized as all the other pieces, maybe apart from the starting point Wanderung. This second half of the album is able to offer reconciliation, for it is purely Ambient-driven and features the better tunes overall.

On Markus Guentner‘s 1981, I can feel how important the linking of the music to his birthyear seems to be for him. And this link may be the key to understanding the two clear cut club tunes on the first half, for Guentner's music-related life doesn't purely consist of Ambient music. An equally important part for him are club-friendly tunes, and with this twofold shuttling between styles, he is in good company, for many an Ambient producer is keen on delivering totally different music that work better for different audiences. So in a way,
1981 is an exhibition of Guentner's skills. The album focuses strongly on Ambient music, and yet, it doesn't feel like a coherent album – a feat that Guentner accomplished with In Moll – but more like a collection of 8 tunes that the artist decided to glue together on an album. This is an observation by me, not a fact or a definite strategy I can pinpoint. Since everyone creates playlists on the go nowadays, you don't probably care about the album experience anymore. Anyway, it's worth checking out Guentner's second album entry on Kompakt if you haven't already. It's vivid stuff and for fans of mellow Ambient music with thick multilayered synth clouds.



Further reading:

You can listen to Markus Guentner‘s 1981 for free on Kompakt Record‘s respective section here.




Ambient Review 053: Markus Guentner – 1981 (2005). Originally published on Mar. 28, 2012 at