BY FRED MILLS
No, it’s not the erstwhile St. Louis Cards’ steroid-poppin’ slugger (that last name would be spelled “McGwire,” silly), but the erstwhile multi-instrumentalist for Cleveland electronic band Emeralds is a heavy hitter in his own right. He’s been compared to fellow composers Four Tet and Julianna Barwick, while classic psychedelia further informs his sonic visions (elements of everyone from Krautrock legends Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream to west coast avatars Quicksilver Messenger Service and pre-American Beauty Grateful Dead can be detected) as he follows a lush kosmiche path directly into the heart of a contemporary New Age sun. Since McGuire’s third solo album is also a deeply personal exploration of—as McGuire writes in his treatise-long liner notes—“the quest of the individual seeking the answers to the great mysteries of life,” that New Age designation shouldn’t necessarily be considered pejorative.
Along The Way sounds remarkably fresh and vital, in fact, the mark of a gifted musician trying to incorporate his philosophical yearnings into a concrete manifestation that can be shared at will. Long passages with waterfall piano ripples and hypnotic fretboard repetitions like the 12-minute “The Instinct” (which recalls Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” minus the scary Exorcist baggage) get punctuated with brief pauses, as if to take a deep breath, and the resulting intrasong dynamics are accordingly dramatic and profound. Whether or not McGuire is successful in literally getting across his philosophy of journey and transcendence will depend on your take on his lengthy written dissertation here. But as a sonic metaphor, the album offers its own aural and mental journey that is as vital and engaging as it comes.
Incidentally, the 2-LP set is pressed on visually stunning yellow-and-splatter-green double vinyl that looks like a starburst as it spins on the turntable. Intentional or not, it’s a nice touch.
DOWNLOAD: “The Instinct,” “Wonderland of Living Things,” “For the Friendships”