In his review of Mark McGuire’s Living With Yourself, fellow Dusted writer Matthew Wuethrich is practically apologetic about enjoying the album: “But I can’t help it. I like Living With Yourself. A lot.” The way Wuethrich qualified his endorsement has stuck with me as I consider McGuire’s new LP for Editions Mego, Get Lost. It’s not that I feel as strongly as my fellow scribe about McGuire’s last album, but that I understand where Matt was coming from when he found himself enchanted with Living With Yourself despite his list of reasons to dislike the LP. There was a conceptual premise that melded McGuire’s heartfelt, expressive sound with a clear purpose, an evocation of family relationships and personal history that was well-served by the guitar compositions. Get Lost has no such concept at its core, and its song forms are less focused, its sweetness a little harder to stomach.
McGuire isn’t reinventing the wheel on Get Lost, but he’s pretty adept at making things move with the time-tested design we’ve already got. There’s little question that McGuire does what he does quite skillfully: Get Lost is composed and performed with a confident clarity and the music seems to hit all the right notes in some of McGuire’s most conventionally pretty material to date. (At least where his Editions Mego releases are concerned -- making definitive statements about McGuire’s entire discography is a fool’s errand, given its size and the limited nature of many of his releases.) Guitar synthesizer is used alongside McGuire’s six-string, frequently ushering divergence from the rather simple, delay-driven linearity that marked much of Living With Yourself, and the album even includes occasional vocals. It’s a nice sound, vibrant and lush, arranged with an ear for atmosphere. Get Lost, though, fails to follow its own directive. The music’s comely new age-y auras, its gentle builds, drifting fades, and the requisite climaxes in between all feel too conspicuously constructed, and the album has a tendency to diffuse its magic via the orderly logic -- even inevitability -- of its composition. The music is like an obedient child, well-behaved, with its forays out of line made with one eye on the accepted path to which it will return.
Get Lost reminds me of a movie that adheres too strictly to time-tested and audience-approved plot machinations: Even at its most successful moments, there’s something that gives the astute listener pause, a sense that can verge on distrust, when one feels too clear a sensation of how it’s working on basic emotion and the transparency of the desired effect. “When You’re Somewhere” is perhaps the biggest offender, with pretty crossing a line into corny, the layered acoustic guitar and synthesized garnish too picture-perfect and predictable. The album’s 20-minute closing track is more satisfying: Relying more on an ambiance than melody, it takes the synthesized guitar arpeggios that pepper the title track and boils them down into a bubbling brook of sunny glint and rushing, spiraling current. The guitar is still floating on top, but it’s not so distinctly the music’s main player, and fades out completely at times to make way for the playful electronics.
When I interviewed Emeralds for a Destined feature in late 2007, I was struck by the uncomplicated candor and positive vibes that the trio gave off. Four years (and a lot of success) later, McGuire doesn’t seem to have hardened. Get Lost is music without much of an edge, straightforward and guileless in its purpose. It was obviously made with care, and, as an result, is pretty easy on the ears. Much of it is also over-saturated, poured on too thick, and it can be cloying in its polite pleasantness. Many listeners will have no issue finding bliss in the music; for me, there’s seemingly always something standing in my path, obstructing my ability to freely drift away. I like to believe that I don’t have the heart of the Grinch, but I simply can’t lose myself in Get Lost. As Matthew Wuethrich said, I just can’t help it.