Just prior to 1981's release, Markus Guentner's Kompakt labelmate Justus Köhncke produced an album titled Doppelleben (German for "Double Life"). Köhncke's title was appropriate, signifying his constant fluctuations between dance tracks and pop songs, but Guentner's own recording career is more deserving of the tab, since his two working modes -- introverted ambient compositions and extroverted house singles -- are far more extreme. Titled after the producer's year of birth, 1981 is a continuation of Guentner's strictly ambient output for Kompakt, including 2001's In Moll and regular appearances on the label's Pop Ambient compilations. With a couple exceptions, the albums deals in transporting background music, indebted as ever to Brian Eno and Wolfgang Voigt, yet capable of leaving its own impression. Melodies either shift deliberately at a snail's pace or burrow into the subconscious with pensive repetition, carried by deceptively rhythmic atmospheric beds. Compared to In Moll, it's lighter on the chimes and bristles, heavier on the billows, and just as stimulating in its ability to spike ecstasy with a little paranoia. The most memorable moment of all is closer "Hotel Shanghai," a track that creates its own spellbinding world as efficiently as other ambient Kompakt charms like Jimmi Moon's "Lovelane" (off Total 2), Donnacha Costello's "Dry Retch" (off Pop Ambient 2002), and just about everything by Triola. "Jellyfish" is the good curveball, a low-key shuffler with a pronounced thump that could eat up another ten minutes without losing steam. "Hi-Jacked," the appropriately titled bad curveball, is built on an unpleasant jacking rhythm that only hijacks the mood and otherwise continuous excellence of the album.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman