Over the last half-decade, Mark McGuire has carved out a unique space for himself in the realm of contemporary alternative music through prolificness and sheer force of will. A former member of the influential, similarly release-happy experimental trio Emeralds, his music has retained a distinct and idiosyncratic feel even as his compositions have become increasingly ambitious and dense. It begins with his guitar work, which is always texturally rich and recognizable for its tone even though his playing is widely varied. He can send out layer after layer of simple and easily melodic patterns, making them overlap and flutter like hummingbird wings; he’s unafraid to top all of those intricately constructed layers with a meat-and-potatoes solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Journey song. This skill has remained the core of his songs from his earliest CD-Rs all the way through to epic multi-instrumental efforts like Along the Way, a full-length released earlier this year.
There’s a consistent emotional aspect to McGuire’s work that’s just as important as his fretplay. He’s an earnest and unabashedly sentimental composer, whether exploring his youth and family (on his first prominent full-length, Living With Yourself) or plumbing philosophical depths and metaphysical questions on Along the Way. There’s a gentle, searching quality to the length and slow expansion of his songs, and to his infrequent vocals. His new EP, Noctilucence, is more of the same: named for a bright, bold, and rare cloud phenomena, it finds McGuire further expanding his sonic palette.
There are moments on Noctilucence where McGuire’s steps toward a more complicated strain of composition are palpable. Take a song like “Entity (Presence)”, one of the shorter tracks on the EP at only six minutes in length: it begins with the sort of chugging, easily layered lines that have formed the base of hundreds of McGuire’s songs over the last half-decade. Within a few seconds, it breaks open and reveals a pulsing drum machine and waves of chirping synths; those layers of guitar are still present, but they’re buried under dozens of other elements by the time the song is finished. This constant building grants each song on Noctilucence an impressive depth, something that’s particularly noticeable on the album’s pair of 10-plus minute titans, “Noctilucence” and “Astral Protection”; in the middle of them, I find myself remembering that McGuire once released an EP called Get Lost. In trying to summon the size and scale of constellations and galaxies far beyond our current reach, McGuire invites the listener to surrender their directional impulses and cede control; when he deconstructs these songs and slowly strips them down to their humble beginnings towards their conclusions, it feels like reaching the end of a long journey.
While the sheer size and density of McGuire’s work on Noctilucence is certainly impressive, it should be noted that the EP is just a variation on the sort of quest for truth and peace in the maelstrom he’s been conducting for over a half-decade. His methods may have changed, but the end result of his best work remains the same: the loss of your grip on space and time, the release of control. One of my favourite McGuire songs is “Dream Team”, originally released in 2008 and collected on the phenomenal 2011 compilation A Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire. Stretching over 17 minutes, it doesn’t begin to approach the diversity and colour of the material on Noctilucence. It’s a collage of dozens of layers of distorted guitar and some echoing, wordless vocals, one that slowly builds to an impossible crunch before dissipating and drifting away. “Dream Team” is simpler, but it’s just as effective. And while it would be reasonable to compare that song and something like “Noctilucence” to reach the conclusion that McGuire is reluctant to leave his lane, I choose instead to revel in his singular gift, one he’s slowly and surely exploring.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1AadZUR