Music

Mark McGuire: A Young Person's Guide to Mark McGuire

Mark McGuire's recordings from limited cassettes, CD-Rs, and singles find him using his guitar to make a double album that's both folksy and warm, as well as experimental and psychedelic.


Mark McGuire

A Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire

US Release: 2011-05-10
UK Release: 2011-04-25
Label: Editions Mego
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Mark McGuire makes guitar records. In this age of post-everything, it’s almost endearing to find a musician, particularly one without much of a retroactive impulse, who is so readily attached to his chosen craft that his name and the instrument he plays are practically inseparable. Biases against McGuire may depend on one’s biases against the guitar itself. Some, such as this writer, feel that the guitar’s dialectical dominance in the rockist lexicon makes it something of a threat to forward-thinking strands of music. Others may be more welcoming of the guitar’s continued omnipresence. But I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that McGuire’s records sound the best when his guitars sound less like guitars, making A Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire a bit of an assorted blend.

The compilation process is prone to produce albums whose very chronology immediately renders them uneven. With the album in question being a collection of tracks from ultra-limited CD-Rs, cassettes, and singles released between 2008 and 2010, one would expect this mix to come out a bit lumpy. Flow is hardly the problem though on A Young Person’s Guide. The cuts from this mammoth double album weave and stream into each other quite elegantly in fact. If anything, the concern with A Young Person’s Guide revolves around how McGuire is to sustain the gushing emotion, particularly the warm feeling of hominess, without coming off like he’s only offering you a warm cup of a milk and a needlepoint pillow.

The discord arrives when McGuire alternates between using his guitar for abstract effects/affects (suffocating melody under drone, using echoes to mimic and multiply the self, and creating unique textures as set dressing for the melodies) and applying the instrument’s traditional strum for more direct folk applications, using it as a carrier for a specific resonance that has more to do with the tool used than the notes played or the sounds produced. In short, McGuire’s more experimental guitar works generally play out fine, but his more rootsy playing feels a bit pat without a significant psychedelic swirl surrounding it.

The album kicks into high gear immediately with the massive 17-minute jam “Dream Team”, a lush soundwavepool of elated fuzz. The name is a bit misleading, though, as there is no team to McGuire. Unlike his ensemble act Emeralds, in which, in true psychedelica form-, there is no individual within the sum of the parts, McGuire makes music by and for a solo player, even if his personal sound is occasionally enough to fill a room.

McGuire makes an artful muse out of solipsism. His last major release, Living With Yourself (also on Editions Mego), featured home-shot candids scrapbooked across the cover and sonic portraits that were pastoral, intimate, and downright gorgeous. The songs here feel similarly personal (and often pretty), but at times McGuire seems to be struggling to connect with them.

In skirting the thin line between coffee house twaddle and genuinely heartfelt yearning, McGuire is still able to lean toward the latter, but it occasionally seems that he is far too comfortable dancing on the edge of the former. “Radio Flyer” has a lightness to it that’s practically twee in its innocence. The tensionlessness of its constant glow is nice, but also more than a tad impotent. And at 10 minutes, it consumes a large chunk of A Young Person’s second disc. “Marfa Lights” is the exact opposite, a slow builder in deep concentration whose drama heightens as the seconds tick. Yet, its affect is all in simple chord changes, like Neil Young’s solo in “Down By the River”, a rocker for the post-rock set.

That paced escalation is kind of McGuire’s bag here and, though he can use it masterfully, one can’t help wondering what Holgar Czukay would make out of chopping and pasting together bits of McGuire’s catalogue and throwing some Jaki Liebezeit percussion under it. For all the delight within the noisy feedback smears that invade the anxious echoplexed ticks of “Flight”, the track feels absent a rhythm to better elucidate its nervous energy. Restrictions become hindrances in this case, which is a hard notion to conceive in a music world of 2011 that could really stand to censor itself more.

Yet, there’s also “Ghosts Around the Tree”, whose piecemeal structure sounds too distracted, rescinding the initial estrangement of buried chants, haunting SFX, and gothy melodies in favor of a more loose and debonair approach. The track actually seems more comfortable in its own skin by adopting the latter aesthetic, but one can’t help wondering what McGuire could have done had he channeled the dark promise of the opening, itself a bit of a departure for McGuire.

This is not to say that there isn’t some “Sick Chemistry”, as one track of mammoth feedback-laced theater organ-sounding drone puts it, that will fondle and massage the eardrum in satisfying ways throughout. Even the most colloquial of riffs can detonate into a frenzy of impressive effects in the course of a measure or in the flicker of a tempo change. Plus, it’s hard to stay mad at an album that is this welcoming. McGuire puts out a lot of music (with this review, we’re already several releases behind). So, compilations of this sort are going to prove necessary, particularly if he keeps up on his current release schedule. A Young Person’s Guide may not showcase all McGuire can accomplish, but it’s a good primer, a young person’s guide if you will, on the kind of things of which he is capable.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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