Release Date: Feb 4, 2014
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Electronic, Experimental, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Ambient
When coming up in experimental noise-drone trio Emeralds, guitarist Mark McGuire's spectral leads and heavily treated tonal clusters added both menace and resolution to his analog synth-playing counterparts. Well before leaving the band in 2013 (a few weeks before the remaining members decided to break up rather than carry on as a duo), McGuire was prolific as a solo artist, releasing compositions that ranged from hissy tapes of rough cosmic guitar meditations to more refined, nearly new age-leaning acoustic fare. Along the Way represents the most ambitious material from McGuire to date, including deeper production and a plethora of various instruments that never made it into the laser-focused explorations of solo guitar that made up previous albums.
Mark McGuire does not idle: A little more than a year ago, the guitarist announced his immediate departure from Emeralds, the space-exploring Ohio trio that had emerged during the previous half-decade as a vivid, prolific syndicate for a romantic hybrid of electronica and post-rock. McGuire’s kaleidoscopic new LP, Along the Way, is, in some fashion, his post-Emeralds debut. It is, after all, his first album for Dead Oceans—a commercially accessible imprint that, after years of small experimental labels and self-releases for McGuire, might as well be a major.
Describing your album as "...an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind"—as he does in the liner notes for his latest record Along the Way—may sound ambitious and even a little pretentious, but for prolific Ohioan guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Mark McGuire (formerly one third of divisive and now disbanded electro-drone architects Emeralds), it's just another day at the office. .
Emeralds were a band continually recording and exploring quite the assortment of musical avenues. Much of their improvised material found itself on numerous self-released CD-Rs and cassettes, but it was 2010’s Does It Look Like I’m Here? that got them wider attention with its Robert Fripp and Brian Eno inspired pieces. With Emeralds no more, former guitarist Mark McGuire is following up his 2011 solo album Get Lost with something inspired by the works of Russian thinker PD Ouspensky, who advocated the ‘Fourth Way’ line of thinking in which you travel towards the ultimate goal of being in ultimate harmony with your mind, body and emotions: a sort of high consciousness.
Ex-Emeralds man Mark McGuire’s latest solo record is intended as “an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind”, he writes in the liner notes, though it never stumbles upon any particularly surprising or challenging territory. But although his mission proves futile, he approaches it with a curiosity of spirit that makes ‘Along The Way’ a captivating and nourishing listen, less noodly than his early solo releases and more in the vein of the composerly streak exhibited on 2011’s ‘Get Lost’. It starts with ‘Awakening’, a sleepy meditation where the world seems to come into focus, acted out by intricate strings and ambient tinkling, before journeying through bucolic loops that conjure peaceful Chinese gardens and into the darker, swarming grind usually associated with his old band.
Getting all nostalgic for new age music from the 1980s seems to currently be the hip thing for musicians of a certain age and musical disposition. And why not? If I were to say that I did not groove-out to Ray Lynch’s new age classic Deep Breakfast when I was a lad and that I do not, even to this day, blast that stuff at neighbor infuriating volumes on any given Sunday afternoon, I would be a filthy, despicable liar. You might feel compelled to ask me, “do you own more than one Tangerine Dream LP from the late 1970s?” Yes indeed I do.
No, it’s not the erstwhile St. Louis Cards’ steroid-poppin’ slugger (that last name would be spelled “McGwire,” silly), but the erstwhile multi-instrumentalist for Cleveland electronic band Emeralds is a heavy hitter in his own right. He’s been compared to fellow composers Four Tet and Julianna Barwick, while classic psychedelia further informs his sonic visions (elements of everyone from Krautrock legends Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream to west coast avatars Quicksilver Messenger Service and pre-American Beauty Grateful Dead can be detected) as he follows a lush kosmiche path directly into the heart of a contemporary New Age sun.
"In the course of time, modern man has taken a rather blasé attitude towards the universe, of which he is so intimately a part. We look out around us at the most extraordinary and miraculous of worlds, and yet we are scantly astonished. Everything has gradually been deprived of its overtones. Children have much of wonder in them, but as we grow older this wonder ceases, as a kind of glibness takes it's place.
For the uninitiated, it’ll be the front cover that holds the first clue to ex-Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire’s new album. An arid desert scene is captured in gentle motion as if sliding past the photographer’s lens, its immense terrain dotted with splashes of psychedelic colour and translucent clouds. Crossing the sky is an undulating line, marked at its central dip, accompanied by the album’s title, Along The Way.
For all that Emeralds were associated with a resurgence in blissed-out, new age vibes, even to the end the Cleveland, Ohio trio still bore traces of the Midwestern noise scene that bore them: a certain sense of sturm und drang. That end came in January 2013, shortly after guitarist Mark McGuire announced his departure from the group, and while we can only speculate the reasons behind his leaving, exposure to his solo output suggested he was finding himself increasingly hamstrung by the Emeralds format, intent on carving out his own path. Along The Way is McGuire’s first release for a label of the clout of Dead Oceans, but it’s only the latest in a tangled discography that runs to several dozen releases stretching back to around 2006.