Alan Sparhawk: Solo Guitar (Silber Records, 2006)

by Jason

Sparhawk GuitarAlan Sparhawk, guitar aficionado and slow-core genius, has released his own full-length solo disc. This disc is nothing like what I have heard him do before. Unlike his other projects, Black-Eyed Snakes or Retribution Gospel Choir, this album is stripped down, only guitar work. Even more minimalistic than Low, Sparhawk uses noise and crafts drones through his guitar and nothing else. There is no percussion of any sort. There is only the guitar, some loops, and spontaneous composition.

“How the Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside” begins the disc and briefly introduces what is to come. The guitars ebb and flow through the speakers, creating a thunderous drone that waves and undulates. This brief track leads one into an even briefer track, “Sagrado Corazon De Jesu (First Attempt).” This appx one minute track gives a brief melody and displays some of the beautiful reverb that will be used on later tracks. Ethereal and dreamy, this track is just right and beautiful. It’s follow up, “Sagrado Corazon De Jesu (Second Attempt)” clocks in at 13:26. It begins with low volume and Sparhawk’s signature guitar sound that rings through the speakers. Patient and careful, the guitar comes in and fades to quiet. A very low small rumble sits down in the mix as the guitar pops and blurts. A Spanish twinge comes through the guitar line that devolves into fuzzy walls of sound. The guitar layers sparkle and Sparhawk dots the landscape with crying guitar lines that weep and cry out. The volume slowly builds as the guitars roar and the river of drone becomes more of a torrent. The volume and drone eventually level out and the pulse begins to repeat over and over. It’s almost soothing; yet, there is some angst in there as well. It’s certainly a gorgeous layered affect that entrances the listener and brings them into Sparhawk’s dreamy world.

“How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor” begins with what sounds like a fog horn. The guitar rings and then goes quiet. Silence is certainly not an issue for Sparhawk. He does not shy away from what many American’s are uncomfortable with. He then adds a tempo with what sounds like tapping of a guitar. Notes are played over this ticking drone and the low level of the volume just makes it serene at this point. A feedback type ring cuts through the quiet as a low hum punctuates the landscape and metallic sounds lay underneath. As this 17 minute track progresses, wind sounds move through the ambiance and the volume continues to rise at a slow, steady pace. A low guitar line interrupts the drones with dissonance and volume, perhaps signaling frustration in the midst of contemplation. The mood becomes spacey as the layers begin to mesh and meld together. Grinding metallic sounds eventually piece the hypnotic drone and create a very irritating sound, pulling the listener out of their hypnotic state. Exploding sounds sit under the metallic sounds as Sparkhawk bangs on his guitar. This devolves into sound and noise that is chaotic and explosive.

“How the Weather Hits the Freighter” has swirling repetitive guitars that are high in volume and fuzz out into drone heaven. I gather that this depicts the relentless weather hitting a boat as it pulls into a tumultuous harbor. This transitions into “…In the Harbor.” With the boat safe home, Sparhawk plays a very brief lumbering piece. Perhaps the size of the vessel insists on its slow, lumbering pace. “How the Engine Room Sounds” is a ruckus, as one would expect. The sounds of the guitar mimic the pistons of the engine as higher pitch noises dot the landscape, perhaps mimicking the engineers’ cries to one another. The hum from the amp and feedback fill a quiet moment in the composition. Silence once again comes up in the mix and the engine begins again, but at a much quieter level. “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen,” begins with a simple, quiet guitar line fading in and out of the silence. Eventually silence, then the Sparhawk starts to rip Van Halen style. Of course, his style is dirtier than Eddie’s. Lastly, “How it Ends” rounds out the disc and it begins with beautifully shimmering guitar. The tone is lovely and the song quiet and calm. This fades out an then the disc is finished.

Alan Sparhawk has crafted an emotive piece that is experimental and raw. Ok, so this isn’t for everyone on the planet, but it’s refreshing. All in all, the tones and guitar lines are certainly signature Sparhawk, but he does many things new with his instrument on this disc. The drones and fuzz are beautiful and the volume control brilliant. I hope all will give this disc a listen more than once and soak in what Sparhawk has accomplished.

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