Outer Limits Passed
If there’s one word to describe Mark McGuire’s Beyond Belief, it is most definitely “eclectic.” This record ranges over a vast musical territory in its run-time, from the jazzy, to the morose, to the hard and heavy. McGuire’s skill as a musician and composer has been confirmed by both his time in the band Emeralds and his solo work. His latest effort is a big, strange, wide-ranging album that begs multiple listens.
Starting off relatively soft, almost meek, “The Naacals” opens the album in delicate piano melodies accompanied by jazzy guitar and percussion on a backdrop of synthesizers. It has a free-form feel to it, but maintains a definite structure, never flying off the handle and always remaining focused. This is the first and last time that McGuire shows such self-control. The rest of the album alternates longer, more explorational tracks, with songs that are shorter and more concise, but still way out in the ether themselves.
Tracks like “The Past Presents the Future” and “Locked in Our Sky Language of Cyan” see the music starts off in one tone and gradually, almost imperceptibly, transform into its opposite. A mystery-tinged arrangement of pizzicato strings and marimba coupled with the crowded indistinct chatter of field recordings turns itself inside out and becomes something altogether bright, optimistic and distinctly electronic in sound. Waves of spacey guitar come and go while the music gradually morphs in a trance-like pattern until a sunny melody emerges, sounding almost like something Super Mario would break blocks to. The transformations don’t always make sense, but they keep coming anyway. It feels like getting lost in thought on a familiar road and suddenly finding yourself somewhere completely foreign.
Other times, McGuire gets into spaced-out guitar rock — quality shredding with a heavy polish and a very cosmic feel. “The Undying Stars” sounds like Van Halen from the other side of a black hole. Some tracks play with mood, incorporating sirens, gunshots and a feeling of ominous chaos and turmoil. On the flip side, “True Love (Song for Rachel)” opens on tender acoustic guitar plucking, a rare Earthy moment on this astral journey of a record. It’s actually a shame that the acoustic bit doesn’t last very long. It quickly opens up into more psychedelia before going uncharacteristically heavy in its second half. On an album with so much flying through stars, it would have been nice to have one song with its feet firmly planted on the ground. Apparently the artist disagrees.
All in all, Beyond Belief is a very impressive record. Its breadth is matched easily by its intricacy, and it’s clear throughout that McGuire has put an incredible amount of musicianship to work. His guitar explorations could draw comparison to artists like Buckethead or Steve Vai, and so could his musical ability. Whether he’s gone too broad, too eclectic, too spacey — that will have to be left up to the listener.