Mark McGuire’s albums are, amongst many other things, strong arguments for the album and for the stereo system. They’re not just music; they’re statements, and they demand to be experienced by the best sonic means available. They’re throwbacks, not in style, but intent and effect. Put another way — they don’t make them like this anymore.
McGuire’s albums have beautiful and carefully selected cover art. McGuire’s own liner notes for his breakthrough Dead Oceans debut, Along The Way (2013), are an experience unto themselves — a detailed explication of an artist’s “journey towards the beginning” — a new spiritual manifesto you won’t find on Spotify. The wall of sounds contained therein constitute a degree of ambition uncommon since the 70s heyday of McGuire’s forebears — Göttsching, Eno, Fripp. This is not laptop music.
Beyond Belief, his second full-length for Dead Oceans, finds McGuire now well on the way of his own trip. Fantastical liner note tales written to accompany and set the stage for his mostly-wordless songs delight and confound. Throughout nine tracks we find an unrelenting drive to refine, build upon, focus and maximize the effect of an already remarkably prolific body of work. Though deservedly known for his virtuosic multitracked guitar playing, McGuire in fact plays every bass / synth / piano note, and every beat on the album himself, his vocals more prominent than ever before. 26 months in the making, the passion going into Beyond Belief is self-evident, and the effect is overwhelming.
McGuire, of course, first came to prominence with Emeralds, a Cleveland trio who seem, in retrospect, one of the most pivotal bands to come out of the 21st century noise scene, progressively moving as they did towards sounds more melodic, engaged, directed, and also more hopeful. Like many before him, McGuire isn’t entirely comfortable with the critically-bestowed ‘new age’ tag, but the resonance is there particularly in McGuire’s prose, and it’s not unreasonable that he appeared alongside venerated new age masters Iasos and Laraaji in The New York Times’ appraisal of the new age music renaissance (‘For New Age, the Next Generation’, Mike Rubin, February 16, 2014).
With Living With Yourself, his first major full-length solo in 2010, McGuire emerged from the underground with a clear reluctance to fulfill expectation or live inside any critical boxes. That album, with its sampled recordings from McGuire’s childhood and track titles like ‘The Vast Structure of Recollection’, is unabashedly sentimental, and seems to operate as a disclaimer — a manifesto of sorts against cynicism. Since then, his work has only grown in ambition and emotional complexity. The last few years have seen him working with Dustin Wong, releasing an R&B influenced tape as The Road Chief, expanding into visual art and video work, recording with the Afghan Whigs, and honoring his roots through his work with the annual Voice of the Valley Noise Rally in West Virginia.
Running nearly 80 minutes, the bold and fearless Beyond Belief is McGuire’s magnum opus to date, but in truth, there is no end in sight for McGuire’s vision, making any such assessment wholly premature.