Trouble Books & Mark McGuire

Trouble Books & Mark McGuire

(Bark and Hiss; 2011)

By Brian Riewer | 17 August 2011

Fellow critic Chet Betz figured he’d solved Mark McGuire’s problem with McGuire’s okay-but-not-great solo album, Living With Yourself (2010): stick with Emeralds. And while that’s certainly true, as the sheer brilliance of Does It Look Like I’m Here? (2010) attests, the larger reality this new collaboration with Trouble Books reveals is that McGuire simply works better as a member of a team. Or perhaps more accurately: McGuire is better off when he’s got someone checking in on him during some of his more adventurous excursions, as his overly ambitious guitar work gains some subtleties when having to contend with and conform to the needs of others.

In this case of Trouble Books & Mark McGuire, the former gains the mastery McGuire exudes almost by accident, his contribution multiplying infinitely the instrumental nuances that made up the Akron, Ohio duo’s sound up to now. Think Phil Elverum if he cut it out with the mopiness, started being plain indifferent, and employed lazy Postal Service rip-off backing at some times, attempts at the simple lyrics of High Places without their cute vocals or bang-up production abilities at others. In other words, think of something pretty unremarkable in nearly all facets, and you’ve got a good idea of what Trouble Books sound like prior to this album. Then add McGuire—almost via contact high do the husband-wife duo attain more engaging overtones. Simultaneously give McGuire Trouble Books and his work gains a focus his solo noodlings don’t often attain or even aspire to.

Trouble Books stick mainly to staid Elverum-lite vocal tones, moving especially, copyright-infringingly close to his delivery on “Song for Renier Lucassen’s Sphinx,” and while they don’t quite plumb the dark, isolated depths into which Elverum continuously spelunks (there aren’t many that do), the pair never played the role of cave divers into the recesses of the human psyche anyway, pulling up at “existential” rather than continuing downwards into “morbid.” McGuire gamely delivers by toning down the wailing guitar savant expanses for his first work with actual vocalists and for the temper of the vocalists themselves, attaching a mood akin to Ducktails circa Landscapes (2009), only with better guitar work and less analog fuzz.

And while Elverum might have gloomy down to a science, eviscerating even the most uninterested listener with his emulation of sad-sack self-pity, that’s just it: it is only an emulation, a holographic form of what that mood is and what desperate pangs he’s trying to convey. McGuire, however, composes stuff formed from the very essence of these brain-states, unfurls guitar lines that recreate, perfectly, the firing neurons across its synapses, the very electronic impulses that birth such a feeling. This shit’s inside your head, all of it, the Word made pure experience: the washes upon washes of brain waves, the tides of the subconscious pouring in over and over again.

The resulting record is lazy in its form but not in its execution, its sonorous chillness asking for appreciation of its delivery—with the expectation that one appreciates with one’s feet up. It is, frankly, anti-chillwave, a sleepy, summer-inclined album that doesn’t require a lowering of artistic expectations just to enjoy it. And really, it doesn’t have to try that hard: the humming, glowing core of this record makes the collaboration seem completely effortless, and subsequently makes one’s indolence that much more inevitable while enjoying it. So kick back and have a beer; the two parties have found peace in their alliance…in Ohio of all places.