Album Review: Along the Way

Posted on February 09, 2014 in Arts & Culture
By Francis Flisiuk

Dead Oceans

Mark McGuire has had a busy year. After splitting up with the electronic band Emeralds and signing on to the Dead Oceans label, McGuire has managed to keep up an impressive creative pace with the release of what may be his most ambitious work yet.

His EP, entitled Along the Way features 14 tracks of soothing synthesizers and spectral guitar leads, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of number of instruments incorporated in this album.

This album is complicated, but in the best way possible. Each track is distinct and dense with a plethora of different sounds layered on top of each other. McGuire has strayed away from  the strictly solo guitar setup that made up his last album for an exchange of sparse bass notes, sprinkled with the high notes of piano, mandolin, drums and electronic sounds for a truly unique, new age and almost psychedelic feel. The instruments work together as if they were built upon interchangeable layers that result in songs that change drastically within seconds, but so organically and naturally that you don’t even notice right off.

This shape-shifting quality of the music makes the whole album feel like a story unfolding, with its high moments and low. Because of this narrative effect of the whole album there’s never a dull moment, and first time listeners will find it impossible to predict how some songs are going to play out. Vocals, often processed through a talk box, make their way into the tracks as well, but not as a focal point. In fact sometimes they are so soft, well-blended and chant-like that it takes a while to realize they are even there, as the track lulls you into a more relaxed state. This album oozes positive vibes. The best way to listen to this album is by embracing its meditative qualities, closing your eyes and envisioning the story McGuire is trying to tell with his intriguing and beautiful soundscape. You might as well start burning the incense now.

One track in particular, called “The Instinct,” stands out in my mind as a song that’s part of a journey. Positioned right in the middle of the album, this 12 minute sonic parable feels less like music and more of an audio representation of a story playing out in your head fueled by whatever thoughts stream into your consciousness. Featuring a slow and steady minimalistic beginning, it’s clear by the progression that the song is actively evolving into something different. By the halfway mark the atmosphere of the song has completely changed, with heavy synthesized guitars added and, distant vocals that seem to stimulate the listeners imagination further.

Described by McGuire as “an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind,” Along the Way is a complex yet soothing audio journey, that through the emotions it evokes, can often mimic the rhythm of life itself.