Mark McGuire’s songs—of which there are hundreds, released scattershot and with alarming frequency considering their languid pace—feel like an Inception-style endless trapdoor through which layers of memories and half-remembered tiny moments never really end, so much as repeat in slightly different ways. It’s music built on subtle repetition, a strummed guitar might fade into calm nothing, only to let a complex layer of textured, laconic noise weave its way in. After four minutes McGuire’s songs sound hypnotic, by six they sound familiar, and by the end they sound like home. It’s an overarching feeling that makes it difficult to isolate any single track. Each follows this pattern with monkish determination, even if they sound wildly different. “I don’t want to feel any barriers in any direction when it comes to sound or style or instrumentation or anything like that,” he says. “Music is pure freedom to me.”
Last year, McGuire released a sad but cathartic album called Living With Yourself. Like most of his music, it was instrumental. Layers of guitars stacked endlessly, building toward a release that doesn’t come until the last track, which begins with an old audio recording of McGuire’s father warning him and his brother about girls. The cover of the record is a collage of family pictures with a house at the center. Each photo feels tinged by fall’s breathy, orange sunlight. The album is steeped in memory, but not nostalgia; it sounds honest and revealing even though McGuire never really sings anything. Since then, his work—both solo and with the cosmic, synth-obsessed Emeralds—has expertly transformed plaintive ambient guitar into powerful pieces with emotional resonance.
It’s not all that surprising that with this more focused direction has also come a change in environment. McGuire recently made the move from his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to Portland, Oregon. “I want to see where things take me in the world,” he says. “I’ve been able to clear my head, which has been really good for me.” Moving across the country to change your life in your mid-20s isn’t exactly a wild concept so much as a rite of passage, but McGuire has always made music that is dependent on not having a clear head. It’s built on clutter, his guitar tangling and untangling itself constantly in an endless attempt to navigate through cobwebbed memories. It’s a sound that could go on forever. “I think [living in Portland] has affected my head,” he says. “It’s done something to the music.” It remains to be seen what his new location and new sense of clear-headed freedom brings to his work, and it’s possible that it may never really manifest itself, but that uncertainty is part of its beauty. “There are so many things I want to put out into the world,” he says. “I’m just not trying to rush through everything all at once.” With every release, his music inches toward transcendence, he’ll never actually get there, but he might as well keep trying.
Stream: Mark McGuire, Living With Yourself