Looking back on Low’s output, from their early day forays into homespun ambient noise to glacial behemoths of slow core, Alan Sparhawk’s Solo Guitar seemed bound to happen at some point and what more appropriate time than after Low’s most accessible pop offering and Sparhawk’s subsequent breakdown.
Comprised of completely instrumental pieces, this disc is Sparhawk letting his main instrument of emotional release do all of his speaking. Where he’s previously been an expert manipulator of silence, this offering shows him to be equally gifted at the dynamics of a more constant sound.
The free-form squall “How the Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside” introduces the album to the warm-toned oscillations and hoar-frost-fringed metallic scrape that typifies this material. “How a Freighter Comes Into the Harbor” — the album’s centerpiece — is the sonic embodiment of the action of its title. Sparhawk’s distant, sparse performance in this track’s opening minutes ripples cavernously, as though echoing in the hull on an uneasily calm sea. Looped, sustained notes rise up out of this murk, stretching tension fishing-line tight and setting the stage for the abrasive screech that eventually scrapes away the existing calm and leaves only frayed nerves. “How the Engine Room Sounds” continues the assault of those fragile ears, making the cacophonous chug of mechanized parts an obliterating rhythm section that abruptly cuts out and is replaced with a tinny hum that sounds a tuning diode.
“Sagrado Corazon de Jesu” (both the first and second attempts) are more languid and restrained. There are moments in the second attempt where a thick emptiness of sound hangs in the air like a humid August night before Sparhawk’s echoing Spanish guitar carves both hypnotic drones and fiery leads straight through its core, ending with soothing repetitious loops forming a wordless mantra.
These compositions should be taken as extensions of Sparhawk himself. Chronicling such an emotionally and physically taxing time is fairly common in popular music, but few artists are able to make it into as bold and vital a statement as this.
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