Mark McGuire. Along the Way.
Dead Oceans, 2014. Mark McGuire: https://www.facebook.com/MarkMcguireMusic
Progtronica is the term Mark McGuire uses to describe his music. I guess that’s as good a term as any, and it saves me the trouble of coming up with one myself. Originally from Cleveland, and a former member of Emeralds, McGuire is now in Los Angeles. He continues to produce music and art (this is his third full-length album), and it would be best to get this CD reviewed now, as he has already released a digital EP since this came out. We’ll stick with this for now.
“This story is an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind, the endless unfolding of psychological landscapes, leading to perpetual discoveries and expansions, in a genuinely emergent and infinite world of worlds.” (from the accompanying story- booklet). So, these are love songs. You scoff, but later in the booklet, McGuire refers to Love as “the true life-blood of the planet,” and the thread of discussion about the music leads back to this theme in a variety of ways, from awakening of consciousness, to the quest for the understanding of existence, the nature of loneliness and evil, spiritual growth and compassion, interconnection and change, and the self in the world. Heavy and heady stuff, but useful as a guide to working one’s way through the fascinating array of musical compositions. Not that it’s necessarily work (in the negative sense), because the music itself is a beautiful set of interrelated tracks that one can listen to without considering McGuire’s take on his own work. It’s approachable at many levels, from deepest thought about McGuire’s conceptions to meditation on one’s own, to background music. Your choice, and consume as you will.
While McGuire’s music is electronic/ambient in the broad sense, it is also guitar-laden, which tends to give it a propulsive quality that much ambient music lacks. Reminiscent of some work by Steve Reich or Brian Eno, it sometimes it heads in the direction of rock music (“The Instinct”) or film music (“The War on Consciousness”), other times it takes different qualities, incorporating spoken word dialogue or sung lyrics, distortion and fuzz, or light and airy electronica. But in all cases the production is multi-layered and complex and harmonically lovely, making each listening an enjoyable experience and an opportunity to hear new things. The music is lighter in tone than the booklet’s musings would suggest in some places, but that doesn’t bother me. Organized into four broad parts, each with several sections, he presents a framework for understanding his philosophical underpinnings and the unfolding of a life. He’s telling a story, and it is a coherent and fascinating perspective. I don’t know if I go along with it all the way, but I appreciate his explicit and honest approach.
The music is simultaneously fun and serious. Again, you pick, in an and/or kind of way. It is also gorgeous and highly recommended.
Personnel: Mark McGuire (electric and acoustic guitars, bass, vocals, piano, synthesizers, keyboards, drum machines, acoustic percussion, talkbox, mandolin, effects and electronics).
Tracks: Part I, To All Present in the Hall of Learning: Awakening, Wonderland of Living Things, In Search of the Miraculous, To the Macrobes (where do I go?); Part II, The Age of Revealing: Silent Weapons (the architects of manipulation), The Instinct; Part III, After the Heavy Rains: The Human Condition (song for my Father), For the Friendships (along the way), Arrival Begins the Next Departure; Part IV, To the Palace of the Self: The War on Consciousness, The Lonelier Way, Turiya (the same way).