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

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.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'The Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.