The best moment of Emeralds’s last album, 2010’s excellent Does It Look Like I’m Here? was when the ambient trio strayed slightly away from the synthetic glow of their arpeggiated synths and polyrhythms to let guitarist Mark McGuire create the backbone for the beautiful “Now You See Me.” Where the group had already amassed a formidable collection of impeccable drones up to that point in the record, placing McGuire’s clean strums and playful pull-offs center stage put the group’s talents in an unexpected but rewarding context.
Get Lost, Mark McGuire’s 29th album since 2007 (ambient musicians are quite prolific) is like that transcendent moment in “Now You See Me” stretched over forty minutes. It takes the shimmering grace that made Does It Look one of the best electronic albums of last year and incorporates a new layer of depth that improves upon McGuire’s mainstay’s strengths.
McGuire is an excellent guitarist, but not technically so. Rather, he just knows what sounds good in an arrangement. He knows that fingerpicking goes fantastically over the synth drones of “When You’re Somewhere,” and that letting a bass take the forefront on the title track would bolster his plaintive strums. He knows, as in “Another Dead End,” that incorporating duel guitar harmonies sounds fucking awesome and that his singing works for the spacious “Alma” and its reprise. McGuire’s techniques are subtle, but all their resultant musical choices are exemplary. Even his singing is unobtrusive, creating a fine reverb-addled mist through which his guitarwork can subtly blaze in the distance.
The result is an ambient record that is soothing but not complacent. Its quiet comfort is not the result of tried and true cliché served to you as if it were new. Instead, Get Lost fascinates you with innovation, however indirect it may be. The best example of this is the twenty-minute closing track “Firefly Constellations.” I’d be lying to you if I said that I haven’t fallen asleep to it a few times before, but every time I have, I have regretted missing what treasures lie within its countless tunnels and crags. Sure, they might be too small to bother looking for, but it’s a relaxing experience in and of itself to just pick at the atmosphere. And that’s the difference between Get Lost and a lot of the other downtempo electronic releases of this year. A lot of records will soothe you in 2011. Only a few will melt you.