As one third of Cleveland psych-droners Emeralds, guitarist Mark McGuire could lay claim to being a prolific artist, as they’ve released dozens of CD-Rs, LPs, and cassettes in just over four years. However, on top of that output, he also has a solo discography that’s more than 20 releases long, all limited-run and on tiny labels or self-released. Not too shabby for a 24-year old. But never mind the quantity, because the quality of McGuire’s work is consistently high, centering largely on tightly woven soundscapes, but also sometimes veering into tape collage, and vocal and keyboard drones. The A Pocket Full of Rain CD-R is his most fully realized work yet in his young career, supplying far-reaching and uplifting instrumental guitar vibes to help listeners forget the blues they carry around through the mundane plane of daily existence.
While obviously a great guitar player, McGuire doesn’t step out like a virtuoso. Instead, he applies his craft with precision, building tracks from the bottom up using loops, adding layers of compositional complexity with a soft hand and a brilliant ear for timing and texture. It’s this command of composition that really separates McGuire from the pack of atmospheric instrumentalists. Each new part seems to saunter into the picture like the aroma of freshly prepared food, strong at first but ultimately seamlessly blending into the whole. The recording is clear and effects are deployed lightly and judiciously, adding to the organically fresh feel. From beginning to end, this is a smooth journey, even recalling the syncopated beauty of the best of smooth jazz at the end of “Radio Flyer”.
The touchstones to great bands here are abundant: the guitar-centric mid-70’s Popul Vuh, early Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Lanterna, Roy Montgomery, Landing, Tristeza, mid-period Growing, and The Alps. Through all the arpeggios and repeated chord patterns, what really shines through is a joy for the transportive power of music. Perhaps it’s that he’s operating on such a small scale and has nothing to lose or prove with each release, but the music seems to emanate naturally from a variety of influences without much attention paid to a unifying statement, esthetic, or scene. It exists like a jewel, magnificent in its essential and pure is-ness, deflecting attempts of the mind to shape it into something contextualized and signified, an elemental (yet complex) expression. Lead track “Extended Forecast” starts with some front-porch style strummy repetition, then slowly introduces elements like arpeggiating needle pricks, sunny vamping, and fuzzed out lead, before slowly unraveling into a disintegrated keyboard drone. It’s like the soundtrack to a day or a life in 13 short minutes. “The Marfa Lights”, built around a propulsive Kraftwerk-styled rhythmic skeleton, broods exquisitely in five layers before dueling baritone riffs take it deeper into the abyss, where it finally succumbs to transducing blasts of sound alternating between the left and right channels. The relatively short (1:35) title track is a transcendent mix of voice and liquid guitars, and it passes by much too fast. “Shallow Where It Should Be Deep” is like a Burger/Ink track created solely with guitars instead of synths and sequencers.
On A Pocket Full of Rain, each track is remarkably engaging and shows a musician in full control of his palette of sound, building organically pure soundscapes while skirting association with New Age on one end of the continuum, and self-released, trippy, one-take tedium on the other. The overarching feel to the music here is one of being on a journey of constant motion, and the music would sound great accompanying a nature film taken from a camera flying over breathtaking valleys and vistas, low to high, warm to cold, sunrise to sunset. This modest little release is brimming with elemental life, a forceful phenomenon hidden from view, like a pocket full of rain.