Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

"Along The Way"

Release date: 03 February 2014
7/10
Mark McGuire – Along The Way
28 January 2014, 11:30 Written by Chris Lo
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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. Before we hear a single note, the art and the title are setting us up for a journey; a road trip of the soul.

That’s a lot of philosophising for a photo and a title, I’ll grant you, but to long-time fans of McGuire’s work with now-defunct ambient trio Emeralds, and especially his ridiculously prolific solo output, it should come as little surprise. Whether on the meandering guitar lines of 2011′s Get Lost, his last major full-length release, or the washes of distortion collected in A Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire, his songs have a searching quality, an earnest desire to explore personal revelations through swirling, instrumental collages of guitar and electronics.

So it proves with Along The Way, which is closest in tone to McGuire’s 2010 debut proper Living With Yourself. While the new album regularly drapes itself in the nostalgia that defined his debut (jovial recordings of family and friends are prominent on both), it seems to have a wider range in which to roam. McGuire himself describes Along The Way as “an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind”, and it’s been pegged as something of a concept album, but that’s a bit of a red herring. True, the album flows naturally from track to track in a way that emphasises the perpetual motion of a life’s journey (physical or internal), but otherwise the only ‘concept’ is what the listener makes of it.

The tracks have an emotionally open quality that strives to accommodate the listener’s baggage rather than forcing its own viewpoint. Opening trio “Awakening”, “Wonderland of Living Things” and “In Search of the Miraculous”, with their interweaving layers of acoustic guitar and soft synths, make for a suitably momentum-building start, but they’re composed so holistically that no single element takes control. The miraculous is here, the songs seem to say, but you’re going to have to search for it yourself.

Along the way (so to speak), the album coasts through different pitches and moments of drama, laying out as it goes a pretty comprehensive backdrop for the audience to project their own lives. Twelve-minute centrepiece “The Instinct”, which has echoes of Nordic slow-burn masters like Lindstrøm and 120 Days in its gradual elaboration on a simple guitar theme, rouses itself into a veritable frenzy of fuzzed-out solos, but somehow maintains that personal-soundtrack vibe. While the album’s loveliest moments, like “The Human Condition (For My Father)” and “For The Friendships (Along The Way)” are clearly a reflection of McGuire’s warmth towards his loved ones, their cheery melodies and affectionate bleeps are just broad enough to remind us of our own.

All this is a fairly protracted way of saying that Along The Way isn’t the kind of album that pulls you into its world; it spreads outwards to soundtrack yours. It’s a style that carries the risk of Coldplay-style broad-brush syndrome, and for some these songs will be too vague, too generic to have a lasting effect. Even for hardcore McGuire fans who know the deal, the stylistic and tonal similarities with Living With Yourself might prove a little repetitive. Although this might not be a record that grabs you by the collar and slaps you in the face with its genius, for those who are happy to give a little of themselves to bring these songs to life, Along The Way could prove an excellent companion for whatever journeys lie ahead.

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