Beyond Belief by Mark McGuire (Dead Oceans)

mark mcguire coverBeyond Belief by Mark McGuire (Dead Oceans)

There’s the cynical belief that in music everything has been done before.  Fans and writers (myself included) find it easier to express in shorthand how a band sounds or fits in, in that we create “genres” of music.  Formerly of Emeralds, Mark McGuire is following his muse and disregarding the rules.  Consisting of guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, Emeralds expressed themselves with amplification and speakers and pedals.  Go seek them out online if you’re looking for something atmospheric and ethereal.  In the past ten or so years McGuire has also been releasing his own music, just recently re-released as digital download from the very limited original cassettes and CD-R’s he gave out to the lucky few.  He’s also released music under the names Cat Nap and The Road Chief.  Under his own name Beyond Belief is his third proper full length release.  McGuire has his touchstones, the distinct sounds he comes back to again and again, and the combinations of guitars and electronics lay the groundwork for a very fertile imagination and expansive range of rhythms, melodies and motifs.  He’s fearless in his willingness to go from synthesized or guitar-generated ambience to violent beats and textures to hands-in-the-air dancefloor bliss, often in a single composition.

I missed out on Emeralds, only learning of the group recently, but you can see them online. Amusingly, on Youtube, after watching a clip from Emeralds live, Kraftwerk are shown performing Tanzmusik on TV from 1973.  McGuire’s live performance of In Search of the Miraculous shows that he’s a one-man band using technology to loop his live playing and accompany himself with prerecorded material, yet it is his intelligence, passion and style of playing that really draws you in.

McGuire is obviously inspired by many artists that came before him, yet his compositions are often so complex or flat-out beautiful that those inspirations become inconsequential.  And that’s a sign of a true artist.

mcguiremark_largeBeyond Belief opens with the contemplative piano, vibes, guitars and flutes of The Naacals, drums enter and the song seems like something that would fit quite well on an easy-listening station like The Wave in Los Angeles, the station that plays music that could be called “new age”.  Once you get past whatever negative connotation that genre term brings, just sit back and be amazed at what McGuire is doing.  Because two-thirds of the way through guitar fuzz blankets the uplifting performances and you can almost see a huge band playing this live with an orchestra of guitars.  This is smart music for smart people played by a genius not yet 30 years on this planet.  On The Past Presents The Future, McGuire builds on the Steve Hillage and Robert Fripp meet modern classical composer Steve Reich vibe with his interest in tightly wound together playing of like instruments and progressions, yet McGuire puts his own spin of electronic dance music and textures into the mix. That one song, at 15 minutes takes you places many artists won’t go in a full album. Sons Of The Serpent is a pop song masked in celestial guitar fuzz and distant piano, McGuire’s vocals a hummed approximation of singing, bringing to mind Michael Stipe in R.E.M.’s early days.  Earth: 2015 is almost like a soundtrack to the end of the world.  The track opens with visceral bullet sprays of percussion, thrumming, pounding bass and drums advance, synths and guitar blips, bloops and mumblings take action, a barely contained chaos and violence assaulting your ears. A slowly-played guitar line patiently cuts through the clatter, something for you to focus on, and the hopeful melody leads us to a grooving beat and a glorious future where clatter and hope can live together happily in disharmony. The Undying Stars follows, an upbeat dance track with McGuire’s thrilling guitar work throughout.  Locked In Our Sky Language (for Cyan) has a sparkling synth and string pattern skipping through echoing haze, joined by splashing marimbas or vibes and various playful fleeting sounds.  Beyond is another blissed out pop song, this one more romantic, with guitar and keyboards sketching out an almost House beat yet without drums.  True Love (song for Rachel) threatens to dissipate in it’s own understated and lovely guitar strums and burbling synths until a super-distorted guitar and drums jump in at the half-line and take the listener on a breathtaking plane ride into the big blue skies.

Beyond Belief closes like it began: with pretty pianos.  Beyond draws us in with spoken words from a child and a man, surrounded by strings and electronic touches, the piano playing gains urgency, the clouds close in and McGuire’s scrambled vocals and buzzing guitar express something serious and heartfelt.  Yet he can’t leave things too serious as a dance beat is added and the pianos and guitars brighten up and you begin to believe that because you’ve survived the hard times you’re better for it and a sense of peace and love overcomes you, with Mark McGuire’s magical music as your soundtrack and inspiration.

(by Bret Miller)

Dead Oceans


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