Mark McGuire is the guitarist of Emeralds and this is an album of looking back, to childhood, to relationships successful and otherwise, and the persistence of past moments creative acts of the present. Some of that I got from the press release, the title, and the pictures that adorn the cover-candid shots of people and places, banal images of everyday and extraordinary moments, the kind that all of us have accumulated in our wake-and the rest I got from listening to this record, moving with it hovering around me, simultaneously enveloping me in another person’s impressions of his own life, and leading me on traversals through the present myself, backwards and forwards via my own memories, my own fantasies of the future and the past. It’s that kind of music, as much about what happens to you while listening to it, as about what it does.
Nostalgia is big, nostalgia has been big, nostalgia will be big. But this is not a nostalgia record, however much its source material may be a particular past. The first piece here goes by “The Vast Structure of Recollection,” which is a pretty acute description of the territory that this music explores. The vast structure of recollection, the endlessly beginning and ending and intertwining and productive and depressing and inspiring paths that cut through one another and the present and become partially erased and reappear and endlessly branch off along the path of a single mind growing and forgetting and recollecting. That, and not nostalgia, from where I am sitting, is what this music is.
Obviously, if you have heard much or even a little bit of Emeralds output, you know that Mark McGuire is able to coax an extremely diverse and personal array of sounds and moods from his guitar playing. I imagine the man has quite the bag of tricks up his sleeve. Proceeding by repetition that builds into forms that feel at once new and engaging, both Emeralds and McGuire’s music build ambiguous states that defy easy emotional tags. They sometimes seem reflective, at others overwhelm, and probably just as often as not do both in the space of the same track. That is the case with “The Vast Structure…,” which builds from an energetically strummed acoustic guitar to accommodate recorded voices of children and adults that slowly get embraced and drowned out by waves of bristling but warm feedback, before returning beneath criss-crossing guitar lines. Everything expands in all directions at once. Everything is boundless.
The opposite is true of my favourite piece on the record, “Clouds Rolling In,” where everything is tightly wound, contracted to a single point, a single heavy point, where just as much happens but clandestinely, the way a single moment can be filled with so much that escapes our grasp, a moment spent in someone’s company or a moment that is a landscape that we face or allow ourselves to be absorbed in. All that said, it actually reminds me a bit of Neil Young’s music for Dead Man, evoking the steam and the churning steel of the train. But whereas that film is a journey of a dead man to living and dying having lived, “Clouds” is simply an intensification of a single moment or place that when taken in long enough becomes a part of the one who sees and feels it, surpasses the reality of everyday reality.
Like the last Emeralds record, the superb, Does It Look Like I’m Here?, Living with Yourself appears on Austrian label Editions Mego, which means not only exposure to new audiences, but also that McGuire’s work, previously available in only small runs, can be procured physically without too much difficulty. This is a good thing, as it’s nice to have objects around the house that when spun can provide you with someone else’s wide and beautiful world to wander and admire, to push you around the corner and into a place that you have never quite been before.