Mark McGuire Beyond Belief

[Dead Oceans; 2015]

Styles: new age, noise, psych
Others: Emeralds, Trouble Books, Lejsovka & Freund, Bing & Ruth

Over the last 10 or so years, Mark McGuire has built a career riding Emeralds’ melodic, hopeful swells into powerful chaos, sounds that feel like rocky cliff lookouts over foggy patches of smoldering forest. Way back in 2012, Just to Feel Anything was one of my favorite releases of the year, sharpening sounds from skewed, half-baked memories of New Age utopianism and refining them through glowing, bubbling digital acuity and animatronics. Following his departure from the group in 2013, McGuire continued his series of solo releases with 2014’s Along the Way and Noctilucence, ones that chronicled an evolving personal vision, building two sonorous, spiritual opuses that shift beyond gaudy romance and pseudo-spiritual comfort to create something big.

Here, again with the Bloomington imprint Dead Oceans, McGuire offers something new, sourcing sounds from evolving synths and MIDI crash cymbals to again grasp at beauty. Much like other MIDI-revivalists, McGuire uses a few of the transparently digital sounds, scattered about the release, to suggest a shift in evolving aesthetics — one that moves beyond the false ahistorical romance of hypnogogia to embrace our digital abundance. But again in evolving New Age fashion, McGuire positions these sounds as if they were the originals, situating everything in the mix with sharp, expressive articulation and some solid compositional chops. The album begins with the MIDI piano and soft pads of “The Naacals,” flatly running along the keyboard in uniform time, evolving into a spacy muzak jam that, when paired with McGuire’s jazzy guitar chops as the song evolves, wouldn’t feel out of place on The Weather Channel 25 years ago.

“Earth: 2015” is a sprawling epic of enormous proportions, moving from racing breakbeats to glitchy arpeggiations, soaring lifters, and fuzz-drenched guitar swells, becoming a powerful, ever-rising piece that settles into softer, CompuRhythm-sounding hi-hats, gorgeous synth strings, and restrained keyboard plucks. “Locked In Our Sky Language (For Cyan)” becomes a repetitious, almost-Glassian composition around recurrent pizzicotto and marimba tones, building into something of a MIDI oboe-sounding solo. “True Love (Song for Rachel)” offers a nice bit of contrast, becoming an acoustic ballad riddled with one-shot hits and running electronics reminiscent of his work with the Ohio duo Trouble Books. Structurally-speaking, it’s probably the most rock-oriented track on the release, growing into guitar overdrive in a way that feels conscious of sound’s eternal constraint: that it’s always inextricably limited to evolving in linear time.

Beyond Belief is at its best when exploring the conflict beneath. “Earth: 2015” feels chaotic and fresh, mining sounds from all corners of history to grasp at euphoria, while “Belief” settles into MIDI strings and lyrical mantras to deliver dynamic, nuanced electronic music. It’s a rich, dense release packed with variation at every turn, resisting the cheap limitations of sound palettes and compositional tropes to again find New Age beauty in chaos. The release shuffles through sounds like never before, running with relentless ideas and challenging assumptions of the trashy disposability of MIDI, sitting flatly on a planar space of strength, energy, beauty, and wonder.

Links: Mark McGuire - Dead Oceans

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