I am going to struggle to say anything here about Mark McGuire that I did not express in some way in the review I wrote about his last record, Living with Yourself. Not that I remember precisely what I wrote there…it’s just somewhat unavoidable in this case I am afraid. The same forces are at work in this retrospective of his earlier releases, the same deft sense for letting space between sounds develop and then blurring them all together into a magnificently smeared, vaguely transparent canvas. It is painting that comes to mind but painting in constant motion, abstract but occasionally redolent of common figures: bodies, houses, fields, streets, mountains. Painting with video. But music. Music that may make your mind wander or shut it down altogether, when played very loudly, shut it down and cover your body, become its space of breath.
A Young Person’s Guide collects 20 pieces from the various limited-edition CD-Rs and cassettes that McGuire has released incessantly since 2007. Maybe someone out there has managed to hear all of these releases in their entirety but I am not he, and this is my initiation into McGuire’s back catalogue. What impresses, after making it through the nearly two-and-a-half hours of sound, is the diversity of the material — the multiple ways he is able to manipulate his machinery, and pummel or pluck his guitar, to create evocative and engaging places to go without leaving your living room.
Most of the time, the guitar is there, front and center, fizzy, driving itself through the center of the recording, throwing off sheer walls of glassy spray in its wake. Opener “Dream Team” is giant, 17 minutes of giant, splintering, wailing guitar layered and looped until the whole thing is a mad, benevolent tsunami rushing headlong into the oncoming day. There are even swooning, wordless harmonies that float up into the mix about seven minutes in and give the piece a Loveless feel, but Loveless endless, without song structure to break up the feeling of infinite indefinite space. “The Marfa Lights,” another highlight, follows “Dream Team,” and though also guitar-heavy plays on a more definite emotional tenor, building perceptibly and methodically to a long, noisy and ruminative plateau.
It was surprising how few listens it took for these pieces to differentiate themselves from one another. They stand on their own, are resistant to merging into a single ambient sprawl. The moods created from similar sounds are too diverse to get synthesized into a single idea. When acoustic guitar is used there is definitely a more pastoral tone, but one that is obviously still related to the more visceral works. “The Path Lined with Colorful Stones” and “The Wind on the Winding Road, Pt. 2” build substantially different worlds, one light and chromatic, the other uncertain and draped in shadows. They feel related more to the direct playing of James Blackshaw than the processes of abstracting sounds that reign in the noise or ambient communities. But then they are both. And that is part of their spell.
Unfortunately, here some pieces have been cut down to fit the format: the tripping, effervescent sound wall of “Sick Chemistry” (which could go on forever as far as I am concerned) and the riff-driven corridor, “The Invisible World,” for instance. But this is a small complaint. Not really even a complaint. It just makes me want to track down a few of those tapes or CDs. This release is meant to give you an idea of the breadth and depth of music Mark McGuire has been making. Certainly, if his work with Emeralds led you to him, you are not going to be disappointed by what you find here. I am tempted, even, to say no one at the moment is doing things with a guitar more worthy of your attention than him and there is no place better to see this for yourself than on this, A Young Person’s Guide.
Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here?
Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Seeping Through the Veil of the Unconscious
Fennesz – Endless Summer
Stream: Mark McGuire – “Over the Water”