You hear the innocent little boy speaking over the pristine chord, both seemingly free of distortions. As time passes, the chords start to take definite direction and subthemes develop beneath the surface. After awhile effects are applied, differentiating a personal style. These effects produce ripples which send out energy, suggesting connection with and impact on the outside world, and continue to grow in confidence until waves are made. Outputs increase in frequency and fervor until finally the force coalesces into a vibrating ball of energy with no sign of decay. After a sustained climax at peak intensity, things slowly stabilize, landing softly with a clarifying peace.
That was the story of “The Vast Structure of Recollection” the lead track of Mark McGuire’s first proper big-label, mass-produced album, Living With Yourself. It also traces the broad contours of a talented kid growing to adulthood, and the metaphor underscores the living and growing quality of McGuire’s music in general. Making an instrumental album about something, and to have that something communicated beyond the creator’s mind, is not an easy task. But with a few titles, a few samples of speaking voices, and a compositional structure which emphasizes growth from simplicity to complexity, McGuire has taken what he’s already been doing very well – a groovy mixture of soft focus pscyh, wide-screen soundscaping, and free-flowing kraut – and contextualized it in a way that makes it even richer.
Beginning and ending with tapes of McGuire as a little boy recorded by his old man, Living With Yourself has an autobiographical feeling to it. Juxtaposing little Mark’s chatter with big Mark’s intricate guitar creations highlights the wonder of development and backgrounds the long time span between being born and finding a unique artistic voice – the hard work of incremental improvement. Even as this slower period of learning isn’t given explicit form (no mishit chords or excruciatingly slow builds) – it seems to be addressed implicitly in the connection between McGuire’s presentation of self and his inclusion of loved ones in his audio story. The feeling of love is palpable on these tracks – both the love and support received by the artist and the appreciation flowing back to those who helped shape him.
Still, it’s more of a tone poem than a mushy love letter. Aside from the added context, few new tricks are rolled out, but if you’ve been following McGuire at all in the past, all the touchstones you’ve come to expect are here. “Around the Old Neighborhood” starts as two understated chords and then modestly builds – at first with different strum patterns – and then with multiple small motifs that act in concert, tugging at the edges of the piece, dislodging little emotions which tumble out of the cracks. “Two Different People” and “Clearing the Cobwebs” share the same esthetic, rounding out the most introspective numbers on the album. “Clouds Rolling In” brings the action, tunneling along in time like a motorik workout – only with the drums replaced with a scratchy rhythm guitar to keep the propulsive momentum. Its warm, buzzy drone and minimalist syncopated guitar patterns evoke the ominous feeling of a storm brewing. “Brain Storm (For Erin)” follows with some trippy, wiggly guitar noodling from which a dripping melody emerges. After simmering down, the melody returns with distortion and is transformed into life-or-death seriousness, beaming itself down from on high, striking with the dangerous electricity of a lightning bolt.
As for the newest trick here, final track “Brothers (For Matt)” sees McGuire as straight up rockin’ as he’s ever been, breaking into power chords and an extended dual guitar solo glorifying the intimacy of the brother bond – competition, pride, protectiveness, and fate all rolled into the most complex and intense relationship a young man can have. It caps off an album filled with breezy, emergent beauty with a bold exclamation point. Props to McGuire for making an album exuding love, humbleness, and gratitude which didn’t sacrifice any of his compositional complexity or overemphasize its conception. He should be proud of living with himself.