Since the dissolution of Ohio-based experimental trio Emeralds in early 2013, guitarist Mark McGuire has kept busy. He's explored smooth jams with his project Road Chief, and contributed to Do the Beast, the first album from the Afghan Whigs since 1998. He also found time to record and release his Dead Oceans debut, the fantastic long player Along the Way in February, 2014.
It's a beatific collection of guitar-driven compositions; in addition to soaring melodies, washes of synth, and electronic percussion, McGuire includes recordings from his childhood, most notably a "roast" of his father on "The Human Condition (Song for my Father)," which opens the third side chapter of the record, which is divided into quarters: "To All Present in the Hall of Living," "The Age of Revealing," "After the Heavy Rains," and "To the Palace of the Self."
"My uncle got a VHS camcorder," McGuire explains. "Every waking hour of the day got filmed somehow." The recordings took on particular resonance as McGuire moved between Cleveland and Portland, Oregon, reconnecting calls to his parents via phone.
Unsurprisingly, given the natural imagery of the cover, McGuire's philosophy-driven liner notes, and general bliss, the album found its way into pop culture's recent reevaluation of New Age music (driven in part by Light in the Attic's excellent I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America 1950-1990 collection). The association doesn't bother McGuire much, though he insists that New Age never went away -- despite claims that there's been a resurgence of the style.
"Those '70s dudes never stopped making records," he states. "I'm not bummed [about the record being labeled a 'New Age' record. My idea [of the album] is very specific and personalized -- but there are a lot of layers, and it's mixed so that [no single element is] too overbearing. So you can hone in on whatever you want to hone in on."
Though mostly sans vocals, Along the Way features a series of lengthy essays detailing the album's narrative. Though the notes enhance the experience, it's McGuire's expressive playing that most effectively conveys his feelings. Post-rock can often feel soulless, an endless volly of crescendos and lulls. In McGuire's case, his playing is literally influenced by soul music. His taste for electric funk rears its head on the album, but even more so with his Road Chief project.
"I started working on these straight forward, pop/funky smooth jams," McGuire says of the Road Chief material. "It's cool to have an outlet for those tendencies."
In addition to "a couple EPs and a full-length" from Road Chief, McGuire is working on gathering artists for a Roger Troutman (of Zapp & Roger fame) tribute album for Omega Supreme. "It's nice to have new turf with a project," he explains, "not the normal 'Mark McGuire guitar extravaganza.'"
Of course, he's pretty into the "extravaganza" thing, too. Recently, while playing a packed house at the Metro in Chicago, he found himself stressing. But it passed when he concentrated on letting go.
"I try to put as much feeling as I can, and as little thought," McGuire laughs. "Stop thinking -- start shredding super hard."
Mark McGuire is scheduled to perform Monday, April 7, at the Western in Scottsdale.
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