Song of the Day: Mark McGuire - The Undying Stars

Song of the Day
03/22/2016
Scott Kulicke
photo by Peter Larson

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJ’s think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on The Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “The Undying Stars” by Mark McGuire from his 2015 album, Beyond Belief, on Dead Oceans.

Mark McGuire - The Undying Stars (MP3)

Mark McGuire's 2015 release, Beyond Belief, seemed to bring out the worst in music critics: all of them universally showered praise on an incomprehensibly complex body of music that took 2 years and 80 billion takes to complete, all of them unfailing in their mentions of his previous time with Cleveland electronic group Emeralds, many of them waxing academic and throwing out words like "hypnogogia" and hyperlinking them with links to academic articles instead of just giving us a useful definition (it refers to that brief, loopy nonsense moment right before you fall asleep). It's easy to see why Beyond Belief pushed writers to flex their chops: the album is a ragingly complex, hugely three-dimensional cinematic piece of music so packed that it feels like a solid block of math at some points. Some critics called it minimalist, which is at best a very loose reference to the fact that the lyrics are few and far between - there's nothing minimal about it, but the blogosphere failed to make the distinction between complex and complicated. The album is a dense image comprised of a thousand parts, but is meant to be observed from several feet away, not to be broken down into the rolling waves of drums, the cascading and interwoven synth arpeggios, or the layers upon layers of fuzz guitar. It is meant to be consumed as a whole, and "The Undying Stars" is perfectly emblematic of this.

Taken under a microscope, one is going to feel lost within the first minute as they try to keep track of the several melodies and their numerous counterpoints, but if you just play it in a car while driving around, you'll understand how a song like this is meant to be heard - broadly, wholly, with a kind of loose but inspired attention that focuses more on the thoughts and imagery the music inspires rather than the music itself. "The Undying Stars" is a potent drug that takes you soaring over the deserts and hills of a rich Blade Runner-y world (the sci-fi comparisons are impossible to avoid), the protagonist of some grand story with as-of-yet unwritten details. It's the rare collision of all the space-age anime visuals used in Daft Punk's early videos combined with that deeply gut-level sensation of flying that we've only felt in our dreams. It's excellent through and through, and is meant to be inspirational, not discernible.

Mark McGuire is not on tour at the moment. If he adds an live date, you can find them on his Facebook page. For now, check out the nearly 11-minute epic "Earth: 2015", another track from Beyond Belief:

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