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Trouble Books and Mark McGuire

Trouble Books and Mark McGuire

[Bark and Hiss; 2011]

By ; September 1, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Trouble Books, the dream pop husband-and-wife duo of Keith Freund and Linda Lejsovka, describe themselves on their last.fm profile as “a future band from Akron, OH.” Mark McGuire, the ambient guitar wizard best known as a member of Emeralds and the man responsible for a slew of strong solo releases (most recently, 2010’s Living with Yourself LP and the Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire from early this year), has one eye constantly on the distant past. Indeed, Living with Yourself was entirely an album about memory — more specifically, his memory, given that he spliced his wandering guitar solos with home recordings from his childhood and threw a bunch of his childhood photos on the cover. So this collaboration between Trouble Books and Mark McGuire can be understood as a meeting of past and future, of nostalgia and futurism dancing a slow waltz together. The results are more harmonious than you might expect.

Opener “Floating Through Summer” finds a typically patient McGuire traipsing past a woodblock beat, warm synth pads, and Lejsovka and Freund’s straightforward vocal delivery. It sounds at once ethereal and organic, as though they were painting a picture of a leafy forest with their notes. On “Song for Reinier Lucassen’s Sphinx,” meanwhile, Brian McBride-esque drones with a driving, clipped guitar that alternates between acoustic noodling and an overdrive-emboldened electric jam. “Strelka Update,” despite taking place around Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, has a western prairie vibe, largely thanks to its cowboy-at-dawn guitar lines. “I let those men send you up into space, the only place colder than the Motherland,” Lejsovka sings to a tune that’s not quite as melancholy as her lyrics suggest. Again, past and present intermingle; the tragedy of the futuristic narrative is juxtaposed with the serene, slowly unfolding guitar notes that harken back to the days of the American frontier. Any resulting tension from this collision of past and present is all but ignored. These sounds simply glide past one another, rarely even attempting to present something of a challenge, which is unfortunate because there’s only so much of this astral affability we can take before everything starts to sound samey. At least the seven-minute album centerpiece “Local Forecast” dips its toes in uncharted waters, incorporating cellos and field recordings of something being assembled or taken apart; like much of this album, it’s difficult to discern what exactly we’re hearing or from whom, though the track does manage to cut through the gentle synth-and-guitar fog shrouding so much of this album.

I don’t think McGuire and Trouble Books are trying to make any grand statements with this album; at just 36 minutes, it’s short and airy enough to come across as an ephemeral dream yet rich enough to not seem incomplete. A constant windswept effect drenches most of these songs in reverb and echo, lending the proceedings a decidedly ambient atmosphere that adds to the album’s inoffensive dreaminess and further obscures the omnipresent auditory ambiguity. What we’re given is a small collection of pleasant, buzzing tones, and while nothing the music is indelible enough to make much of a lasting impression, there’s also nothing especially skip-worthy on the album. It wouldn’t make sense to only listen to a track or two; instead, I think McGuire and Trouble Books intend for their LP to be experienced as a whole, as they guide us along the gently twisting paths in the lush, eternally verdant forest of their collective imagination. I can’t help but feel that they’re capable of more memorable work, but maybe that’s part of the point; after all, it’s rare to remember your dreams in much detail.


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