Markus Guentner is perhaps best known as a producer of shimmering ambient tracks. His 2001 debut album “In Moll” is undoubtedly one of the finest full-lengths Kompakt has released, helping draw up the blueprint for the label’s distinctive ambient sound. Guentner’s regular contributions to the label’s annual “Pop Ambient” series are all too often standout tracks that repeatedly confirm his mastery over the form.
These releases on Kompakt, however, only show one side of Guenter; on Mathias Schaffhäuser’s Ware label Guentner has been exploring poppier tech-house sounds for quite some time, releasing five 12”s and a full-length album. On his new album “Lovely Society”, his fourth full-length (second for the Ware label), Guentner continues his tech-house explorations, with just a dash of his trademark ambient textures thrown in, and comes up with a fine album indeed.
Opener “All the time” is bright, bouncy, and buoyant, with a merrily skipping bassline. A vocal loop, a gently sung “all the time”, occasionally surfaces throughout the track, acting almost like a chorus. During these choruses Guentner adds gauzy ambient textures, suffusing the track with warmth. Even though no other vocals are sung, “All the time” feels just like a love song with its mixture of brightness and warmth. “Something about you” treads similar ambient house territory, and “Soften edges” is bright and bubbly with sparkling melodies, and a nice swing to its hips.
The album isn’t afraid to move more directly onto the dancefloor either. Ziggy Kinder’s remix of “Options” (a Guentner track on an earlier 12”), shuffles onto the dancefloor with insistent basslines amidst gorgeous chiming melodies. The track builds wonderfully over seven minutes, and is guaranteed to have a dancefloor shaking its hips. “Back in the days” is surprisingly bass-heavy for Guentner, with his ambient textures noticeably absent, yet is a driving track that should get a dancefloor moving. “Swap” and “On my mind” sustain the infectious grooves, all the while maintaining a certain softness, warmth, and gentleness. Guentner certainly knows how to move it and groove it, but never slams the listener with his beats.
“Lovely Society” steps off the dancefloor towards the end and slides onto a soft sofa in the chill out room with “Never want to stop playing that game”, ten gorgeous minutes of warm echoing ambience underscored by a gentle yet persistent groove. The groove anchors the track, ensuring it doesn’t float away into the ether, giving it a vital pulse. The CD closer “As we lay on the beach” moves in similar territory, although its beats almost begin to actively nudge the listener back towards the dancefloor again.
It’s worth noting that the CD and LP releases are configured slightly differently. The LP takes out “Soften Edges” as well as the ambient house closers “Never want to stop playing that game” and “As we lay on the beach” and replaces them with the more obviously dancefloor friendly vinyl exclusive “Realize”. The vinyl also includes the Ziggy Kinder remix of “Brickbuilder”, another dance track. The vinyl, then, is clearly aimed at DJs for club use, while the CD is primarily designed for toe-tapping, yet ever so slightly dreamy, home listening.
Effortlessly moving between the sofa and the dancefloor, the home and the club, “Lovely Society” is lovely indeed.
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