Mark McGuire's albums are, amongst many other things, strong arguments for the album and for the stereo system. They're not just music; they're statements, and they demand to be experienced by the best sonic means available. They're throwbacks, not in style, but intent and effect. Put another way -- they don't make them like this anymore.
The wall of sounds contained therein constitute a degree of ambition uncommon since the 70s heyday of McGuire's forebears -- Gottsching, Eno, Fripp. This is not laptop music.
Beyond Belief, his second full-length for Dead Oceans, finds McGuire now well on the way of his own trip. Fantastical liner note tales written to accompany and set the stage for his mostly-wordless songs delight and confound. Throughout nine tracks we find an unrelenting drive to refine, build upon, focus and maximize the effect of an already remarkably prolific body of work. Though deservedly known for his virtuosic multitracked guitar playing, McGuire in fact plays every bass / synth / piano note, and every beat on the album himself, his vocals more prominent than ever before. 26 months in the making, the passion going into Beyond Belief is self-evident, and the effect is overwhelming.
Like many before him, McGuire isn't entirely comfortable with the critically-bestowed 'new age' tag, but the resonance is there particularly in McGuire's prose, and it's not unreasonable that he appeared alongside venerated new age masters Iasos and Laraaji in The New York Times' appraisal of the new age music renaissance ('For New Age, the Next Generation', Mike Rubin, February 16, 2014).
Running nearly 80 minutes, the bold and fearless Beyond Belief is McGuire's magnum opus to date, but in truth, there is no end in sight for McGuire's vision, making any such assessment wholly premature.
Tim Showalter's latest release as Strand of Oaks, Hard Love, emanates an unabashed, raw, and manic energy that embodies both the songs and the songwriter behind them. "For me, there are always two forces at work: the side that's constantly on the hunt for the perfect song, and the side that's naked in the desert screaming at the moon. It's about finding a place where neither side is compromised, only elevated."
Drawing from his love of Creation Records, Trojan dub compilations, and Jane's Addiction, and informe by a particularly wild time at Australia's Boogie Festival, he sought to create a record that would merge all of these influences while evoking something new and visceral. These influences coupled with an uninhibited and collaborative studio experience moved an initial concept for a singularly feel-good record to something more complex and real. As much as Showalter wants this record to seem like a party, it's more than that. It feels like living. "You went away...you went searching...came back tired of looking" is how Showalter begins the title track, a sentiment that epitomizes Showalter's own mentality in beginning Hard Love. As the record progresses, so do the themes of dissatisfaction and frustration with love, family, success, and aging, both in personal experience and songwriting