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solo guitar
CD Album 2006 | Silber 049
9 tracks, 43 minutes
$12 ($18 international, $5 download (256 kbps, ~80 megs))
: Press Release
track listing: how the weather comes over the central hillside, Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (first attempt), Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (second attempt), how a freighter comes into the harbor, how the weather hits the freighter..., the harbor, how the engine room sounds, eruption by eddie van halen, how it ends
It’s exactly as the title says – Sparhawk of Low playing guitar. Simple, right? And amazing – his guitar burns through the air, sometimes creating waves built of empty space and sometimes searing like Eddie Van Halen’s (an allusion made concrete through his cover of “Eruption”).
~ Dave Heaton, The Big Takeover

If For a Few Dollars More had been set in a post apocalyptic landscape then surely Sparhawk’s offering of tense atmospheric guitar would fit the bill as the score to the futuristic Wild West wasteland.
And while the above analogy may seem a little trite I challenge anyone to listen to Solo Guitar without getting images of the Leone style west, albeit with some barren industrial tweaks.
Step into Solo Guitar, with its first offering, “How the Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside” a contemplative and haunting sound driven predominantly by stressed guitar distortion.
“How the Weather…” pretty much sets the scene for the rest of Solo Guitar, as throughout the album, Sparhawk’s guitar work oversees and conducts the echoing and desolate soundscape. “Sagrado Corazon De Jesu (Second Attempt)” being another example of the sombre spirit inherent, the track sounding like a chilling eulogy with the added bonus of a slight Latin twist.
How the Weather Hits the Freighter brings a slightly more intense feeling to the ambiance, creating a whirl of guitar reverb and other sounds that go with the aforementioned title poignantly.
“How the Engine Room Sounds” continues in a similar vein and is arguably the most disquieting to listen to. A repetitive wall of mechanistic sound which at times allows a faint sound of human voices (I think) to creep through, only for the intensity to end abruptly.
Peace however only arises at the end of Solo Guitar via “How It Ends”. A still, composed and petite track, positioned with great effect after the bombardment of edgy distortion before.
Sparhawk is probably better known for his work with the band Low as well as working along side his blues band The Black Eyes Snakes. However it is more than likely that Solo Guitar will provide Alan Sparhawk with enough fuel to drive him onto playlists of those already fans of Remora, Aarktika (A good percentage of Silber’s artists in general) Earth and any other drone based bands I’ve failed to name drop!
~ Michael Byrne, Left Hip

Low guitarist Alan Sparhawk's solo debut is a studied series of electric guitar improvisations which use loops and reverb to summon up orchestral effects. Although the technique is nothing new, it's refreshing to hear that Sparhawk's exploration of drone guitar is firmly dug into rock and even Metal territory. These roots are especially obvious on the occasions when his looped orchestra plays on in the background while he energetically lets rip with the kind of riff that would bring the house down at an Eddie Van Halen concert.
~ Edwin Pouncey, The Wire

So, I missed yesterday due to getting a job, and although I've been planning this all day it feels like I'm going to miss it again, but I finally downloaded something the estimable Robert P. Inverarity smuggled to me under cover of night, and I'm listening to it and I'm sufficiently blown away I feel I should have today's entry cover not just a track, not just two tracks to cover yesterday, but a whole album. Alan Sparhawk's first solo album, in fact, the rather blandly named Solo Guitar.
It is far further 'out' than anything Low's done to date, and unsurprisingly appears on Silber rather than Sub Pop. My sole direct experience with Silber to date was label head Brian John Mitchell's (rather fantastic) album as Small Life Form, but that prepared me for something very un-songlike, at least as 'song' is traditionally conceived, and Solo Guitar is very much up that alley. Very far up that alley. Despite what the title might evoke, Sparhawk's album doesn't sound any sparser than, say, Still's turntable-only Remains, although it gives you much more of a story than that release.
Mostly because of the song titles. There are basically three stories on Solo Guitar, or two stories and one weird-ass cover/homage:
1 How the Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside (1:46)
2 Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (First Attempt) (1:12)
3 Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (Second Attempt) (13:26)
4 How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor (17:53)
5 How the Weather Hits the Freighter... (1:52)
6 the Harbor (0:39)
7 How the Engine Room Sounds (2:49)
8 Eruption by Eddie Van Halen (2:36)
9 How It Ends (0:55)
The titles are at times almost terrifyingly literal, as in the end of "How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor" and "How the Engine Room Sounds." The record was recorded live, with just a guitar, some effects pedals and Alan, and everything on it was created in real time. I include the track times both because I tend to be curious and because here I think they tell a significant part of the story. Of course, when listened to instead of read I think all three elements of the tracklisting are actually facets of the same story (shades of Gene Wolfe's The Three Heads of Cerberus, one of my favourite books). It's highly suggestive that Alan would call a track "Sagrado Corazón de Jesú," of course, and I'm not exactly sure what that has to do with a nautical excursion (part of me wants to say 'disaster,' but "How It Ends" is enigmatic on that score) and Van Halen's finest finger-shredding guitar. But when you hear it, it makes sense.
I mean, I honestly have trouble writing about this stuff. I'm left with description: Sparhawk tends to get the two long tracks going by setting up layers of drones with his guitar and then occasionally bursting out all over them with a kind of violence that has never really been seen on a Low track. Even though he doesn't sing, it's unmistakably him; parts remind me of "Do You Know How to Waltz," yeah, but also "Laugh" and even a track like "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace." He's got a very distinctive guitar style, and even as he stretches it all over the place there's still the odd reminder. The shorter tracks feel like a humble but necessary frame for the excursions of the two main pieces, setting them off and giving context. The Van Halen cover doesn't sound much like the original to my ears, but I've only heard that once or twice and don't play guitar myself. The first and second attempts at "Sagrado Corazón de Jesú" actually sound that way; the first peters out after a brief stab at it, but the second starts the same way before building in power to an almost monstrous degree. And as good as the shorter pieces are, those two lengthy ones are just about the most devastating things Sparhawk has ever put his hand to.
No disrespect to his work with Low, obviously. And your mileage will very much vary, especially given how much you like drones, abstract music and/or atonality (at times). But Solo Guitar feels a bit like the external expression of what might have been going through Alan's head around the time of the post-Great Destroyer breakdown, sublimated through a tale of a freighter and some sort of religious iconography. Before listening I was a bit skeptical of his decision to stack the two lengthy songs together, but it makes perfect sense now - they are, in a real sense, the album and separating them would just be weird. The end of "How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor" is shrieking that sounds almost like a subway train stopping, which makes me think it's not coming in to the harbor peacefully. But it's also beautiful in a kind of excoriating way. Maybe that's the best way to put Solo Guitar, really. Alan often comes across as not really taking it easy on himself or anyone else, and while this may have been very fun to record, it's more fulfilling than fun to listen to. I'm ordering it from Silber as soon as I have some money from the job, in any case. I'm not the type to order everything by any band just because of who makes it (...with the possible exception of Readymade), so this isn't a case of "oh, Alan Sparhawk did it, I should get it." Solo Guitar is as powerful and fierce as Low has ever been, and I kind of hope Alan tries something like it again at some point; he has such pinpoint control over the emotional affect of his instrument that as the Stylus review points out, the record is reminiscent of a good short story.
~ Ian Mathers, You Can't Trust Violence Blog

Away from his work with slowcore supremos Low, this is Alan Sparhawk on his own with just guitar & effects.  Entirely instrumental, comprised of short abstract pieces & longer, extended explorations, Sparhawk's forays into the molten, dream-drift orbits of Loren Connors, Hisato Higuchi, & Earth's Dylan Carlson creat an intriguing work of reverb-heavy, metal-stringed experimentation.
~ Mojo

Low's guitarist delivers a acrid, desolate, yet georgousely tortured sounding soundscape that could easily belong in an unnamed genre section of the store that would include hex-era Earth, Feedback-era Boris, and all-era Woven Hand.
~ Anthem Records

While the four part conceptual thing about a freighter entering a harbour is nice, "Eruption by Eddie Van Halen" makes the disc.  9/10.
~ Neddal Ayad, Foxy Digitalis

What is there to say about Alan Sparhawk's audioscapes? As they are (thankfully) labeled obviously, listeners of Solo Guitar (or its alternate title, printed on the CD itself, Alan Sparhawk Does Not Play in the N.H.L.) will get to hear the guitarist of Low take turns coaxing and beating sounds out of his instrument to create sounds that resemble their titles rather well. On "how a freighter comes into the harbour," which is not the best track but the most obvious, Sparhawk spells out the fog horns, then subtly adds other sounds - waves breaking lightly against the bow and so forth.
However, most intriguing here is how Sparhawk allows silence to dominate Solo Guitar, and as his very forceful brush strokes fade into nothing the listener is treated to a more interactive experience. As silence rushes in, on the edge of music and a blank CD, we begin to hear the minute sounds, some there and some not. On "how a freighter comes into the harbour," we begin to hear the gulls, the creaking of maritime wood, the fog, an increasingly ephemeral exercise that continues until we may very well be sitting on the stern of said freighter, smoking a pipe alongside a wordless captain.
Solo Guitar will surely offer an interesting listen, especially for those fans of minimalism stripped down to it's very marrow. Alan Sparhawk may not have created something that the average music consumer will accepts, but he has once again established himself as an artist and a sort of guitar anti-hero, letting echoes reign where arpeggios could have been.
~ Christopher Langer, The Spill Magazine

Alan Sparhawk = Windy and Carl + Slowdive "Pygmalion" + Godspeed You Black Emperor!
You might expect to be in a world of trouble when the equation above is mixed together with the name Alan Sparhawk.  While mostly known for his central role in Low, this solo work (finally!) shows the truly tortured artist we have always wanted out of Spahawk.  Recorded live in a church with just some guitar loops & some reverb, Sparhawk is drenched in mid 90s shoegaze, a Twin Peaks episode from Season One and Canada.  Amazing.  Layer upon layer of textured attack & cease-and-desist restraint resonate as the album moves deftly between an architecture of brooding build up and Orchestrated sea faring.  While Low is the pop side & Black-Eyed Snakes is his rockin' side, Alan's solo stuff is a 90s mid-life crisis finally shooed out the door.  This release is A+ if you like the drone - not too much and not too little.
~ Erik Lopez, Slug Magazine

Low's Alan Sparhawk takes a surprising left turn into meditational Krautrock. Beautifully patient instrumentals with an ancient, almost menacing edge, well-tempered with minimalist layers of soothing drones and loops.
~ Michael Chamy, Dallas Oserver

Alan Sparhawk's solo debut, Solo Guitar, is, indeed, a true solo release, as it only features him playing, well, solo guitar. This no-frills concept is also a no-frills collection, with songs that glisten in reverb, noise, and drone. Musically speaking, the music found here is not unlike the music found on Low's former label Kranky. Truth be told, the record contains two extremely long compositions, and the rest are short, brief numbers, but those songs are just as good, such as the opening "How The Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside." This is true ambient music; it simply falls and fits into the background, and you can easily forget that you're listening to a record while listening to it. It's also a very, very narcotic record; it's easy to slip into a woozy state while listening to it. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? It really depends on your point of view. Personally, I love it, even if there's really not a lot to say about it.
~ Joseph Kyle, Mundane Sounds

The guitarist of LOW has made an instrumental album with no other musicians involved – no prizes for having figured that out (but with overdubbing, so in a sense it’s not exactly solo). There are many precedents by acoustic guitarists, rather fewer by electric guitarists (there’s a bit near the end of “How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor” where a loop somewhat recalls Frippertronics, but what Sparhawk does over it is nothing like what ROBERT FRIPP would do), but certainly this slowcore great has a sensibility suited to the task.
Thus, thankfully, this is not an indulgent effort showcasing fast fingers, nor a collection of pretty tunes, except for “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen,” which is simultaneously a joke and an interesting extrapolation. Instead, it’s a collection of dark, frightening landscapes turned to sound, pushing listeners to really focus on the emotional, physical quality of timbre and the way it can create a sense of space – or, on occasion, a claustrophobic lack of space. Sometimes the means are simple, almost elementary – “How the Engine Room Sounds” is half industrial racket, half blips of feedback and hum and thrum dripped into silence. Five of the tracks are under two minutes, but even the two epics (13:25 and 17:52) don’t overstay their welcome; Sparhawk gauges the viability of his material well.
Anyone with any sense of listening adventure should check out this compelling disk.
~ Steve Holtje, The Big Takeover

Low frontman Alan Sparhawk gives his axe a thoroughly intense workout on the prosaically-titled Solo Guitar and heightens the immediacy of the experience by recording the material live using loops and reverb. Interestingly, seven of the nine pieces are short (though not lacking in consequence, with Sparhawk engineering a convincing industrial simulation in “How the Engine Room Sounds” and a tumultuous snarl in “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen”), making the long settings “Sagrado Corazón de Jesu (Second Attempt)” and “How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor” the obvious focal points. In the former, Sparhawk segues between episodes of disturbed calm and brutal violence, the guitar wailing against a droning haze of reverb and at times generating a piercing roar so huge it could rip your throat out. Evocative soundscaping at its most terrifying, the 18-minute “How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor” opens with the instrument simulating a ship's muffled horn before descending into a harrowing dungeon haunted by anguished screams and committing seppuku in its final minutes. Feel your heart palpitate as you anticipate the explosions that threaten to erupt at every moment throughout these two epics.
~ Ron Schepper, Textura

“Do you want to hear the solo-album of Alan Sparhawk?” Alan Who? “Alan Sparhawk, the guitar player of minimal popband Low and these days also known as member of angst-ridden blues orientated The Black-eyed Snakes.“ I had never heard of either bands, never found a note played by one of them the time to tickle my eardrum. And there I was, finding myself in the unique position to listen this album without any biased presumptions. Yes, let me listen this album of Alan Sparhawk.
The album is called “Solo guitar” and for a guitar-player this is a very hazardous name. Solo guitar, in my opinion, can only lead to a person playing boring and endless pieces of guitar music. An instrument on which these musicians seems to be interested in showing their skill in playing pieces which sound difficult but are nothing more than a load of boredom. In my opinion all solo-guitar pieces with the intension to make an album is not a good idea, especially not if the guitar player resides in a popband. But Sparhawk was careful enough not to go down the same pitfalls as his predecessors did before him. His “solo guitar” is originate more on an experimental base then the basic showing-of-the-skills you would expect. Through the possibility of loops and reverb he entwined his music into drone-like pieces of music.
A fair goal, but there is a slight problem. The entire album is improvised and therefore recorded in just one take. This makes it nothing more then a live-album of Sparhawk touching his guitar. Maybe it all was in the studio, but still it was recorded in one take and there we also find the flaw within the album. I would be the last to deny Sparhawk’s potential in making great music or even lacking the knowledge to make beautiful drone-based music, but this album can’t even be compared with the real genius of drone musicians. Alan Sparhawk certainly can play a nice pop of music, but when it comes to making experimental guitar music it’s better if puts some effort into re-working his recordings. “Solo guitar” just misses the tension I like to hear in drone-based music and beside a piece like “How the freighter comes into the harbor” it made me fall asleep with boredom.
~ Gothtronic

If Low offers pop grace with the darker slices tucked in behind the harmonies and slipped in the lyrics, then this solo album by ALAN SPARHAWK is its conjugate. On the surface torn, ragged, thrashed, icy and harsh, but as your ears stare at it, the cracks and gashes unveil more radiant patterns. Not as majestic as NEIL YOUNG’s soundtrack to “Dead Man", but not far off that territory.  Some titles here beckon an oceanfaring documentary, but the overall sea change is not so far off “Secret Name” and “Songs for a Dead Pilot.” Here SPARHAWK has a tossed in a lot more maneuvers than Shakey’s wake for Blake. Fog horn drone notes, ripcord string whammy, digi del digital lay de digits. There is even “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen” which makes it sounds like an upscale perfume, but I think that is meant to be an “emotional” cover; if not a whispered message for Eddie to release a solo album of his own, and try and be half as experimental, half as naked, half as honest. And with “How It Ends", a short warm sweep, you get the sense that ALAN still lives in hope, through solo winters and high LOW summers.
~ Thurston Hunger, KFJC

Roiling with sounds of heavy atmosphere and drenched in distant echoes, "How the Weather Comes over the Central Hillside" is the sound of Low's Alan Sparhawk as he attempts to photograph the forces of nature with his guitar. "Sagrado Corazon de Jesu" is represented twice; first as a shimmering prelude, and then as a "second attempt" which unfolds over thirteen minutes. The cavernous spaces between notes speak volumes, followed by pealing guitar that lashes out with mournful gravity. Listeners will be reminded of Ennio Morricone soundtracks, but not in the soothing aspect of guitar instrumentals favored by Henry Frayne's Lanterna. Sparhawk's foreboding mood is closer in spirit to David Eugene Edward's apocalyptic Wovenhand. "Eruption by Eddie Van Halen" shows some cheek, answering an uneasy stillness with unfettered guitar squall.
~ Jeff Elbel, The Big Takeover

It's always strange to hear someone whining about a certain piece of music being self-indulgent.  Even if it were possible to divorce a performer's ego from the music he or she makes, who would want to listen to it?  In truth, sometimes ego is about the only thing that carries an album, or makes it palatable at all.  Case in point: Alan Sparhawk's Solo Guitar, an instrumental live recording wherein Low's ostensibly reticent frontman hogs the spotlight to narcissistically caress his fret board & effect pedals.  Only this is the guy from fucking Low.  There's just no way to imagine a man who's made a career out of ascetically sculpted minimalism really & truly jacking off his ax.  And sure enough, he doesn't.  Each song begins with pinpricks of arpeggios that are then looped, smudged, dilated, & then layered with, uh, more notes & drones in some massive orchestral accident.  But due to the fact that this is a live recording, its immediacy is more than an empty adjective on a press release.  It's palitable, scaldingly raw.  You can hear echoes raining from eaves, snowflakes sublimating, maybe rhinos dying.  A cover of Van Halen's "Eruption" isn't recognizable as such, but it's a palate cleansing break from the rest of the set's sour austerity.  Not that Solo Guitar isn't a fully captivvating listen -- it overwhelmingly is.  It's just that, you know, you'll never fully enjoy it as much as Sparhawk himself did.  But maybe that's just you being selfish, not him.
~ Jason Heller, Sky Scraper

Solo Guitar is the first solo album from Alan Sparhawk of Low, recorded live in Duluth, Minnesota, using guitar loops and reverb. The album consists of several shorter pieces and a couple of lengthier stretch out tracks. The 13 minute "Sagrado Corazon de Jesu (second attempt)" is one of the longer tracks, starting off with a basic, almost Spanish inspired theme, with much care put into the expression and execution of each note. Slowly pulsating drones soon emerge and begin to wander along an ever winding path while Sparhawk continues to jam on the guitar and add layers of looped patterns. But the highlight of the set is what I'll call the "Freighter Suite" of tunes. It kicks off with the 18 minute "How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor", which begins with guitar notes that are spot on for a foghorn sound, creating the image of the freighter chugging slowly along. The entire piece is subtle and sparse, yet highly image inducing. I could easily close my eyes and imagine a foggy evening and the hero freighter slowly approaching the harbor. Things get a bit noisy in the last minutes and I started to worry that our hero freighter crashed into the dock or something. But then I saw that the next few tracks continue the story and learned that it's just a spell of bad weather prior to pulling into the harbor.
I enjoyed the reverb and drone laden atmosphere and soundscape sections of the album, though Sparhawk particularly impressed me on the Freighter tracks, creating vivid imagery and a variety of well crafted effects, all the while amply demonstrating how less can be so much more when in capable hands. And rounding out the set is a good fun cover of Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption".
~ Jerry Kranitz, Aural Innovations

There is a dark side to Alan Sparhawk, front man-singer-guitar player for the well-known beautiful slow-core band Low. Those who know most of the Low-oeuvre will have noticed some hints of that darkness throughout the years. Early Low wasn't exactly the happiest music, nor was it radio-friendly in some cases. The 14-minute drone of Do You Know How To Waltz of one of their early, and best, albums The Curtain Hits The Cast was a first sign of the hidden and haunting darkness Low possesses. A darkness that comes back from time to time... The EP Songs For A Dead Pilot was a surprisingly experimental and dark record, some songs like the heavy and almost Swans-like Don't Understand from the album Secret Name, or some of the tunes on the Trust-album... And Low-fans will surely remember the message Alan posted on the Low community board explaining in an open and honest way why the band had to cancel some show last year. It was a message of a man in doubt, questioning himself and his surroundings, asking how to go through with the things he was doing. The answer came with The Great Destroyer, an a-typical Low record, a reinvention of the band and its main man.
Solo Guitar, Sparhawks debut album as a solo artist, is not the kind of record you would expect from this polite, kind of shy man. And it also proves that he still has some demons to exorcise. Solo Guitar is exactly how it is titled: a man playing his guitar, no vocals, no rhythm section, just guitars and effects and loops. And the result sounds fantastic. There are two central tracks on the album, adding up to 30 minutes of this 43 minutes long album. If it had been up to me, I would have limited the album to these tracks, because the other seven guitar experiments on the album sound like starts without endings, half tries, unfinished business... not that they are bad, but I felt like they have more potential. For instance, the last tune How It Ends is very much like a small promise of a glorious song.
But let's get to the centre of this record, the two long tracks at the beginning of the album. First there's Sagrado Corazon de Jesu (second attempt) - yes, there's also a first attempt. As its title suggests there is a certain Latin, exotic feel about this track. It starts off with different melodic riffs with long gaps of silence in between, Sparhawk improvising around the same theme, and after about 4 minutes a guitar loop starts running upon which he tortures and beats his guitar (with a bit of imagination one could hear echoes of guitar heroes such as Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai). Then the drone gets more to the foreground and I can imagine Alan Sparhawk standing with his eyes closed waiting for the right moment to release new noise.
The second track, How A Freighter Comes Into The Harbor, clocking in at 18 minutes, is even more impressive, because it shows in a remarkable way that, even when improvising, Alan Sparhawk is an excellent songwriter. The track starts with single dark notes, again with the long gaps of silence. Sparhawk builds the song layer upon layer, starting off with a high pitched ringing drone floating its way into your mind. At times it reminded me of those drone druids Growing, but this is even more intense. While the Growing sound is comforting and quiet, Sparhawk's sound is uncomfortable, dark and desperate. Again he waits for the best moment to pull out a riff on top of the drones, and as the song evolves the drones are de-layered again, disappear, and what is left is the sound of a buzzing amp. Impressive stuff.
I usually have trouble with improvised guitar playing, but Solo Guitar is worth the struggle through the drones. The result of this struggle is a thrilling and exciting journey down the mind of Alan Sparhawk.
~ Semtex

This solo release by guitarist Alan Sparhawk offers a closer look at some of the sensibilities upon which his band Low is built.  Solo Guitar goes right to the heaty of the sounds that inform the trio's reductivist compositions & arrangements.  With a rhythmic countenance that (depending on one's metabolism) can be described as either glacial or sluggish, but always clearly defined, Sparhawk has long experimented with drones, echoes, & reverb.  Here, loops add breath to his sonic pallet, allowing him to play off of his own previously strummed chords & minimalist note modulations.  Recorded live, with no overdubbing, the disc's centerpiece is an eighteen minute piece titled "How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor" that effectively captures what the title describes.  Curiously, the nine pieces are each given only a number in the letterpress packaging, though they have evocative & poetic titles that are printed on a sticker affixed to the plastic wrap.  It''s a strange omission of permanence from someone who always carefully crafts the entirety of his artistic vision.
~ David Greenberger, Signal to Noise

Solo Guitar, the solo debut from Low's Alan Sparhawk, finds the guitarist experimenting with the effects and space to create moody, lush, orchestral compositions that are concurrently rhythmic and abstract. Recorded live with guitar loops and improvisation, its 9 pieces, ranging in length from under a minute to nearly 18, run the gamut from thick and layered ("how the weather comes over the central hillside" and "how the weather hits the freighter...") to sparse (the more straightforward mellow rock of "how it ends"). Others, like "Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (second attempt)" and "How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor", slowly evolve and build on themselves over time to bridge the gap. However, the album, as a whole, forms a fairly cohesive narrative, one track often leading thematically or sonically into the next, blending noise and melody to impressive ends.
Working with both harmony and dissonance, the album's watery compositions run the gamut from epic and emotive to harsh and unsettling. More traditional melodic phrases often play against a tapestry of underpinning harmonic layers, noise, and loops, while the individual tracks vary sonically despite the album's consistency. The metallic, raw, noise-oriented coldness of "how the engine room sounds", for example, provides an interesting counterpoint to...say...the more melodic "Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (first attempt)".
Both haunting and captivating, Sparhawk's Solo Guitar is a spectacular excursion into instrumental guitar ambience. With a remarkably well produced, full, wide-ranging, often reverb-drenched sound, it's a highly emotive and powerful album that may appeal to fans of his other work, but one that fans of guitar drone shouldn't miss.
~ Joshua Heinrich, Grave Concerns

Well, the title says it all, really. Sparhawk, of slow-core demi-gods Low, sits down, plugs in and goes at it through nine pieces of six-string improv. Far from being a self-indulgent wankfest full of dive-bombing runs up and down the fretboard, Solo Guitar deals in the creation of atmosphere through stretched-out passages full of reverb that arch toward drone, peppering them with strings of languidly emphatic notes, restrained feedback and muffled noise. Those who find Low’s brand of hushed minimalism a tad too dense for their liking will fall into absolute spasms of delirium in the face of Sparhawk’s spare experimentation(s).
Based on the song titles, there appears to be a storyline woven through the album’s duration: a sleepy village, inclement weather on the horizon, a freighter drifting into the village’s harbor, weather and freighter collide, and the nebulous aftermath of that collision. Given the sounds that Sparhawk wrenches and coaxes from his instrument, Solo Guitar is a engaging enough listen on its own. The titular back-story creates a second tier of intrigue, investing the listener in the fate of this imagined ship.
Two long tracks serve as the album’s centerpiece — elongated pieces that set up the bulk of the story — while the other seven are brief punctuations of action pulling it towards conclusion. "Sagrado Corazon de Jesu (second attempt)" is overexposed light, a scene from a neo-western where a lone figure sits on a broken chair, strumming away in a huge room incongruously plunked down in the middle of an otherwise empty plain, the structure’s wall struts barely able to support the weight of a buckled roof as noon-time heat shimmers above the parched earth in hypnotic flutters that won’t cease until well after dusk. "How the Freighter Comes Into the Harbor" next serves as direct contradiction, that the typical lung-searing intensity isn’t going to hold and this day is going to prove very, very different. It begins forebodingly, the guitar mimicking a foghorn that slowly degenerates into series of high pitched notes that increase in volume and morph towards something more insistent, an incessant whine that grows more urgently until they coalesce into one ominous clarion call.
And while the other tracks don’t have the same breadth, they’re no less evocative. "How the Engine Room Sounds" couldn’t be more apt, full of churning roar, then the grinding hesitation of broken gears. Closing track "How It Ends" is a somnolent finale. As delicate as it is mysterious, guided by simple, tremolo accented chord progressions and seeded with understated plucking, it’s either a collective sigh of relief of disaster averted or a mournful coda. In either instance, a fitting and logical end.
~ Maelstrom

All great guitarists obviously go to hell. Robert Johnson set the precedent. You thought Steve Vai was acting in Crossroads? He's recording a tribute album for displaced Sudanese right this second to try and stave off the inevitable. In the pit, down there, in a room with no light, Django Reinhardt is forced to play non-stop while a drop of water falls on his forehead every other minute, for the rest of eternity. Link Wray is being flagellated with his guitar still in hand, while hundreds of expired Gen-X-ers clamor from all sides, begging him to him play the "Pulp Fiction Song" one more time. And Alan Sparhawk can hear all of it.
Calling your record Solo Guitar calls some unfortunate and maybe indulgent preconceptions to mind, but if you recognize Sparhawk's name from his day job as frontman for the infamously minimal Low, all those notions fall away. There's no noodling to be heard here, despite calling one track "Eruption by Eddie Van Halen". (Let no one accuse Sparhawk of lacking a sense of humor.) It's a little more like the finale to Low's "Do You Know How to Waltz?" stretched for 45 minutes-- and much, much scarier. Solo Guitar has less in common with Van Halen than it does with Drum's Not Dead, as Sparhawk tries to move past where music pokes at well-worn emotional centers within us and starts shifting the physical space around us.
Since it's just one man on guitar (in case the title didn't clue you in), that's quite the uphill crawl. Every note has a precedent, has been played a thousand different ways through a thousand different pedals-- getting a "new" sound is hard. But, to hammer a cliche, it's the space around the notes: all the dark, industrial corners of Sparhawk's sweetest Low songs take full court, like the dream of his band evaporating into the blackness of sleep. Any note Sparhawk hits is just to shove at that blackness, pushing it into an interesting corner.
"How the Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside" starts with a few discernible chords and what almost sounds like a bow hitting the strings, but the fog of distortion and reverb drown out any traces of a corporeal trigger. Sparhawk mostly aims for a sound bigger than himself. Later, the 13-minute "Sagrado Corazon de Jesu (second attempt)"-- the first attempt being much more brief-- will spiral out of his hands as three distorted notes are plucked, looped, echoed, and eventually pierced by what sounds like high-pitched surf guitar with its flesh torn off in its final minutes. He imitates more recognizable (but no less abrasive) sounds with the grinding metal screech of "How the Weather Hits the Freighter..." and the rattling reverberation of "How the Engine Room Sounds". The cheekily-titled "Eruption" brings it back to man-with-guitar as Sparhawk makes the same spastic fretboard leaps of Van Halen without any of the discernible space between notes. The Low frontman's played disembodied-force-of-nature pretty well thus far, but it's not hard to project a more human smirk on him here.
Everything Sparhawk tries is pretty successful with a pretty constrained pallette of sounds, from the screeching of "Frieghter" to the more watery Low-friendly tones of "How It Ends", and not much in between. Don't play it at your next party, but put it on it if you want to feel something else immediately: like, uncomfortable. Or overwhelmed. Or whatever Sparhawk felt when he thought this needed to be communicated to others. Something big is coming through these speakers, twisting at the most unexpected moments and changing the air just enough for you to notice.
~ Jason Crock, Pitchfork

Sparhawk, one of the alchemists behind the beguiling phenomenon referred to as Low, a band with such a legion following that it solely comprises its own meaningless sub genre “slowcore” appears to have plugged his instrument into a passing thunderhead judging from the many weather analogies present in the titles. Also it could explain all the lightning and rain that happens whenever I drop this spark-throwing piece of lonely poetry on the player. Sparhawk gets at the “core” or “slow” here, letting the songs issue forth like you are watching a stop-action film of flowers opening and closing, or a half-speed document of fireworks. Things start to get going a couple minutes into the elegiac “Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (Second Attempt)” where looped effects and stray sounds ratcheted off the main stem recombine into something that sounds like the hybrid of a Stratocaster and a coyote losing its shit on a still night. When people throw around the pyrotechnics of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields as an endgame strategy, I offer this up. It is still rock music, just barely, but it still is, but it moves in almost minimalist classical circles.
The foghorn nature of his tone is not lost on the artist in the four-part ‘How the Freighter Enters the Harbor,” “How the Weather Hits….,” “….the Freighter,” and “How the Engine Room Sounds” and to be honest I can’t really add anything constructive to those descriptions accept to second them. The real tongue in cheek here comes toward the end with “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen” which is a forlorn, death-drenched take though the Guitar 101 solo form Van Halen’s 1978 debut. I’ll venture to say there are more notes played in a mere 10 seconds of the original than in the whole of this sparse 2-minute portrait, but the weedly-weedly at the end demonstrates that Alan knows the canon. And truly, there is nothing more akin to sexual climax than an unchained guitar solo dropped in at just the right moment, don’t let any punk rock stay-on-mission conservative sway you otherwise. It’s a beautiful majestic little record that leaves you a little breathless, but refreshed at the end, much like….well you get the point.
~ Alex V. Cook, Outside Left

This isn't the first extra-curricular activity from Low's main singer/songwriter to surface, however, those who are looking for something like "Sleep Song," or Hospital Children or Black Eyed Snakes type recordings are in for a surprise. The title of Solo Guitar should be a hint, as this recording is more for the fans of the uneasy listening of Loren Mazzacane Connors or Keiji Haino on a calm day.
The disc opens with what sounds to me like a couple false starts: two brief pieces that barely pass the one-minute mark which oddly have a copious amount of dead space. They sound like either outtakes from album sessions or a guitarist doing a sound check on an empty stage. However, by the time the third piece rolls around I'm seemingly deep in trance and time has completely warped: elapsing way faster than it seems. "Sagrado Corazón De Jesú (Second Attempt)" is a 13+ minute song which is firmly established from the beginning with low tone guitar loops. Higher tone loops are added for more coloring but the star of the tune is the wailing of the repeated and modified theme, sounding like the cry of beastly bird. Knowing Alan Sparhawk mainly as the singer for Low, I can visualize his playing of this song, completely involved in the trance that he's brought everbody else into, too involved to pay attention to time, space, or anybody in the audience. It's perhaps one of the most expressive instrumental things I've ever heard from him.
"How A Freighter Comes Into The Harbor" is the only other piece on this nine-track CD which also stretches to a great length. This nearly 18 minute bit is also constructed from various layers but with the more dissonant higher toned loops it's creepiness is undeniable. While the title suggests otherwise, to me this one evokes the feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like in a dark field, lost, as fog rolls in, making the struggle to find the way back home less possible. Scraping metallic sounds overcome the piece about 14 minutes in, painful as that metal on metal sound when old trains with rusted brakes pull to a stop at the station.
The rest of the disc is colored with short bits and pieces which are mainly noisy outbursts and rarely expanded into actual songs. I can't say for certain whether I'm less fond of the solo show-offery of something like "Eruption By Eddie Van Halen" or the lathe cutting like sounds on "How The Engine Room Sounds," but "How It Ends," the final bit on the album has a beautiful cadence. Faintly (and appropriately given some of the noisy tracks on this album) echoing "When I Go Deaf" from last year's The Great Destroyer, this one would actually have been nicer expanded into something far more substantial than the 55 second tease that it is.
~ Jon Whitney, Brainwashed

If For a Few Dollars More had been set in a post apocalyptic landscape then surely Sparhawk’s offering of tense atmospheric guitar would fit the bill as the score to the futuristic Wild West wasteland.
And while the above analogy may seem a little trite I challenge anyone to listen to Solo Guitar without getting images of the Leone style west, albeit with some barren industrial tweaks.
Step into Solo Guitar, with its first offering, “How the Weather Comes Over the Central Hillside” a contemplative and haunting sound driven predominantly by stressed guitar distortion.
“How the Weather…” pretty much sets the scene for the rest of Solo Guitar, as throughout the album, Sparhawk’s guitar work oversees and conducts the echoing and desolate soundscape. “Sagrado Corazon De Jesu (Second Attempt)” being another example of the sombre spirit inherent, the track sounding like a chilling eulogy with the added bonus of a slight Latin twist.
How the Weather Hits the Freighter brings a slightly more intense feeling to the ambiance, creating a whirl of guitar reverb and other sounds that go with the aforementioned title poignantly.
“How the Engine Room Sounds” continues in a similar vein and is arguably the most disquieting to listen to. A repetitive wall of mechanistic sound which at times allows a faint sound of human voices (I think) to creep through, only for the intensity to end abruptly.
Peace however only arises at the end of Solo Guitar via “How It Ends”. A still, composed and petite track, positioned with great effect after the bombardment of edgy distortion before.
Sparhawk is probably better known for his work with the band Low as well as working along side his blues band The Black Eyes Snakes. However it is more than likely that Solo Guitar will provide Alan Sparhawk with enough fuel to drive him onto playlists of those already fans of Remora, Aarktika (A good percentage of Silber’s artists in general) Earth and any other drone based bands I’ve failed to name drop!
~ Michael Riley, Left Hip

Alan Sparhawk's album Solo Guitar puts forth a strong, minimalist rock sound that begs the question: can a rock album sustain itself on only atmosphere? Sparhawk (one part of the mood pop tri Low, from Duluth Minnesota on the heels of their master stroke, The Great Destroyer) creates a record of 43 minutes - nine songs, none of which serve to evoke any real tension. They are somber, straining tracks that pierce and drone into the unconscious, urging not so much action as inaction with thoughtful purpose.
And it is something you've never heard.
It would be rueful to delve too deeply into a review of Solo Guitar without first illustrating its method. The entire album was recorded live, using guitar loops and reverb, a technique that results in a present, performance quality that is so rare. It feels like Sparhawk has plugged in, right there in your audio system. Free of song structure and studio structure as well on this record, the slowcore rock genius broadens the spectrum of guitar exponentially. On the record, there aren't songs per se; there are segments of mood divided into edible bites. Seven of the nine tracks are less than three minutes, with two in the middle at over thirteen. The shorter tracks are pieces, splendid jams that get brilliant shrift, a la Another Green World an album of experimentation that is so tantalizing it would make your head spin to imagine any of its ideas fully realized. In the end there are traces of aggression (tracks "How the Engine Room Sounds" or "Eruption by Eddie Van Halen", if you need names) amid the languid, a necessity, but they are short and spaced out with long pauses. More accomplished pieces "Sagrado Corazon de Jesu (first attempt)" and (second attempt) are similar to one another in their sprawling, technically masterful ways. A few minutes under this spell and time is as obsolete as vocal chorus.
Retreating from the original premise that this is a rock album, it would be more accurate to say that this is an anti-rock record. Sparhark creates a sustained piece of ponderous temper, and on the way to that lofty, perhaps avant-garde ideal, a wonderful bit of real music. The deceptively simple titled Solo Guitar isn't party rock -- remember, it isn't rock, not even as much as Low is. It's a harkening back to experimentation and boundary pushing by Tom Verlaine and Eno, and is ultimately one of the better recordings of 2006.
~ Erick Mertz,

An album of improvisational guitar from Alan Sparhawk of Low. Solo Guitar is a purely artistic release from a man who has previously released music that has had at least some commercial appeal. Perhaps as an outlet for his own peculiar emotions...or perhaps as a response to folks who expected certain elements to be heard in his music...Sparhawk ventures out on a limb, recording this album live with nothing but a guitar and various odd effects. Low fans will be forewarned that this project has few--if any--commonalities. These sparse instrumental experiments have more in common with modern classical music than with underground pop. It's hard to describe or even rate something like this. It's an interesting project. Is this genius...or is this mere self-indulgence...? It's interesting to be certain but...hmmm...we just can't decide this time around...
~ Babysue

More guitar music comes from Alan Sparhawk of Low who on his album length solo debut Solo Guitar (Silber Records) blends glacially moving and somewhat minimalistic guitarscapes with strands of glistening noise. Quite often the tracks tend to start on a slow and intimate note before moving right into a tsunami of feedback, a wall of breathtaking dissonance. All in all it’s enough to transport one to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and back again in a matter of minutes.
~ Mats Gustafson, The Broken Face

Low's guitarist Alan Sparhawk finally decided to release a full-length. The thing is I was in for a pleasant shock when I first heard this record. This isn't a record of someone who's been in a rock band for the last fifteen years or so. The guy has made a conscious decision to break off from the past and start from scratch. Literally, what he's doing with this record is reinventing himself. Sounds this man comes up with are more reminiscent to sustained glory of Loren Connors than anything else. Long passages [two pieces clock in at the 13 and 18 minute marks] of blissful, drawn-out notes make for a listen that is as challenging as it is rewarding. To be fair, there's a lot more to Sparhawk's mastery than just long sustained notes. I hear references to Fahey's back-country blues in places as well as a more ambient version of the long-gone British trio Loop [though, admittedly, he's much more relaxed than anyone from Robert Hampson ever was on the guitar]. "How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor" softly establishes an eerie atmosphere that is full of elongated notes that beautifully drift on and on and on without a visible end, only near the end to be interrupted by a scraping sound resembling a freighter train's wheels scraping against rusty rails. What a beautifully descriptive sound this is. Like a perfect illustration in the dustbins of your mind, the sounds held here bring forth the pictures you forgot in the first place. As with all good things in life, unfortunate thing is "Solo Guitar" comes to an end before its potential is completely realized.
~ Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta

On the day the newspaper tells me Gyorgi Ligeti is dead, I see him referenced in the press message for the CD by Alan Sparhawk. It made me think to play Ligeti again. Just a wild guess: I don't think that any other solo instrument got more CDs than the guitar. It's just a guess. The press blurb says its 'in the vein of underground stars like Aarktica & Reynols as well as guitar heroes like Eddie van Halen (incidentally hailing from the very same town as Vital Weekly). Alan Sparhawk, of Low fame (to some, not here, ever since I heard their cover of Joy Division's 'Transmission'), plays guitar in an improvised manner and adds a high dose of reverb to the sound, 'allowing a greater immediacy'. But the reverb is used simply too much, making it very high end like, and creating an artificial depth, rather than a bass depth. I must say the reverb builds to large walls of sound, but it also ruins the music, which could have perhaps been 'warm' and 'intimate', if the choice of sound effects would have been more delicate. Van Halen returns in 'Eruption by Eddie van Halen', but instead of the original super fast, Sparhawk slows it down, letting each note die out, before turning an engine on. A bit like Low did to 'Transmission'. Next time a real solo guitar, please, and not a duet of reverb and guitar.
~ Frans deWard, Vital Weekly

It’s unfortunate that Alan Sparhawk chose to give his first album apart from Low such a bland title. Calling it Solo Guitar makes it seem like an exercise, a frivolous release of aimless noodling with the focus on the player and instrument rather than on the music. In reality, it’s a frightfully powerful experience, with Sparhawk caressing and torturing his instrument to produce a fantastic collection of minimalist guitar that unfolds like a terse yet evocative short story. Eschewing any kind of recognizable structure, Sparhawk indulges in elemental fragments of sound with long, droning expanses interspersed with frantic, thrashing fits of colic and foreboding silences that contain an unsettling emptiness, like the quiet drawing back of water that precedes a destructive and crushing wave.
In only a minute and a half, “How the Weather Comes over the Hillside,” simmers quietly and emblazons Sparhawk’s intentions firmly and distinctly upon the stark canvas of silence. “Sagrado Corazon de Jesu” leaves behind the brevity of the first track, with a persistent drone establishing a fertile bed, out of which well-spaced squalls emerge like lightning-flashes, burning and blazing for nanoseconds and leaving their afterglow hanging in the senses long after they’ve dissipated. It’s a physical experience as much as an aural one. The low-frequency tones are felt in the bones long before they rattle the eardrums. These sounds aren’t simply being played or coaxed from Sparhawk’s instrument; they’re being wrenched free as if through struggle.
“Sagrado,” along with a heavily deconstructed and disassembled cover of Van Halen’s “Eruption” are the only digressions from the larger theme of the album. That theme, of a battered and bruised freighter skimming across dark and endless seas toward safe harbor only to be torn asunder by pursuing storms, only explicitly exists in the extended song titles. Despite the obscure framing, those songs, anchored by the seventeen-minute “How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor,” are a remarkable triumph of suggestive storytelling and highlights the potential that minimalist composition can have in the hands of cautious and attentive composers.
While Kawabata Makoto’s 2002 experiments with the Tsurubami and Rebels Powers charted similar territory but seemed to pointlessly spin their wheels, Sparhawk realizes the importance of firm control over his output. Like fellow minimalists 1 Mile North (who also explore the austerity of a harbor on the magnificent Conduction Convection Radiation collaboration with The Wind-Up Bird and Colophon), the music on Solo Guitar is imbued with narrative subtext and informed by thoughtful plotting that gives it more impact than any lyrical treatment possibly could.
Solo Guitar is challenging and requires that listeners surrender their expectations, allowing themselves to be completely submerged. While some may find it uncomfortable at first, the level of development at work on this album is a thrilling treat, and such fine musical and artistic experiences are not to be ignored or avoided.
~ Michael Patrick Brady, Stylus

This is one of the more interesting things I’ve yet heard from the always interesting Silber Records label.  Alan is best known for his work as an integral part of Duluth-based slowcore pioneers Low, and for his more recent rockier sounds with the Black-Eyed Snakes. This ranges from gently subtle ambience, to gracefully evocative Popol Vuh-like mystic atmospherics, and loud scorching pyrotechnic lava flows. There are nine tracks; the longest is almost eighteen minutes, the shortest, just under a minute. It feels like Sparhawk is enjoying the unlimited landscape of possibilities presented by these solo guitar instrumentals. He continually shifts his approach to playing, a couple tracks recall Tom Verlaine’s instrumental work, elsewhere it’s more like Tom Carter, but it’s far more wide-ranging than any easy comparisons would allow.
~ George Parsons, Dream Magazine

The basic name of this disc is deceiving. While it does accurately describe the activity on the disc, it fails to capture the complex and spacious sounds produced by the solo guitar of Alan Sparhawk.
For those not in the know Sparhawk is also a member of the aptly named band Low. While some of these tracks are minimal, many have a harsher edge to them. The guitar work inhabits the middle ground between Loren MazzaCane Connors’ harshest work and Kieji Hanio’s most plaintive.
The music is made with a solo guitar with the aid of looping pedals and delays that build up to complex and dense sounds. On “Sargrado Corazón de Jesú,” the guitar is at first plucked. Then, the strings or body of the guitar is rubbed to make a barely audible hum. Over that more aggressive and distorted guitar lines are added. Following that, there is a loop of the guitar slowly being strummed, while more dissonant and desperate guitar lines explode out of the amplifier into what sounds like a cavernous hall. The track ends with gentle waves of feedback rippling across the surface before it ends abruptly at the 13 and a half minute mark with a hum that slowly fades out.
Alan proves, despite the dour sound of most of the record, that he does not totally lack a sense of humor. One example can be found in the title of the short piece “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen.” It starts out with some morosely bent notes before the aforementioned Eddie Van Halen eruption. If the song was not called, “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen” the explosion of quick guitar licks might come as a surprise.
“How it ends” closes the album. It is short--just a couple of repeated guitar lines. The song concludes before it can be resolved into anything. The abruptness of the ending leaves the listener wanting more.
~ Dan Cohoon, Amplitude Equals One Over Frequency Squared

I got some reservations about this record by just reading the title and the concept of an album composed with a single guitar. The man behind this project is the frontman of Low and the less I can say is that his solo-project sounds pretty cool! This is minimal stuff, but the way Sparhawk excels in meaningful ambient compositions by the single play of the guitar is simply amazing! This is a very strong experience full of dark impressions and excellent effects in the production! This is not the kind of album I’ll listen to every day, but it’s a damned efficient and original piece of music!
~ Sideline

Come suggerisce il titolo questo è un disco di sola chitarra elettrica. Non quello che ti aspetti da Alan Sparhawk proprio mentre i suoi Low si stanno dirigendo, disco dopo disco, sempre più verso forme canoniche di (indie) rock. Ma tant'è: se avete amato “Songs For A Dead Pilot”, vale a dire il disco più ostico di tutta l'intera discografia del gruppo di Duluth, allora troverete tra le nove gelide composizioni di “Solo Guitar” pane per i vostri denti. E vi sazierete così come si è sicuramente saziato Brian John Mitchell, che di queste acerbe improvvisazioni si è subito innamorato decidendo di pubblicarle nel catalogo della sua brillante Silber, accanto ai dischi di Aarktica e Mike VanPortfleet.
~ Roberto Mandolini, Losing Today

Dimenticate le suadenti carezze in slow-motion dei Low, ma anche quelle asperità che mostrano di tanto in tanto. Questo disco in proprio di Alan Sparhawk, chitarrista e fondatore del gruppo di Duluth, si sviluppa su tutt’altri codici. Per dare delle coordinate immaginate il Neil Young desertico della colonna sonora di Dead Man, capolavoro dell’accoppiata Jarmusch/Depp, ma sottraetegli tutti i riferimenti anche minimi al deserto e/o all’epica western.Quel che rimane è blues scheletrico, guitar-sound allo stato più brado, essiccato alla luce della luna tanto cara al gruppo madre, costruito sul solo suono della chitarra e null’altro e che si snoda sulle coordinate più care al minimalismo avant di Alan Licht o Loren Mazzacane Connors.
Il risultato finale – suddiviso in brevi schizzi appena accennati o lunghe suite – è un fluire di onde sonore riverberate, nate da semplici arpeggi ora ambientali, ora minimali dal sapore vagamente blues che si dilatano all’infinito in loops e drones. Apice indiscusso dell’album è il dittico centrale dalle tracce 3 e 4 che, occupando i due terzi dell’intera durata, rappresentano la vera spina dorsale dell’opera. Sagrato Corazòn De Jesù (Second Attempt),dall’intro vagamente flamenco, deborda, si slabbra, fino a sfaldarsi agonizzante verso territori di un neo-western alieno.
How A Freighter Comes Into The Harbor si muove invece da territori ancor più aspri, semi metallici quasi che sia il suono ad essere onomatopea del titolo del brano, per poi disgregarsi in un lungo sibilo dal sapore di un clangore industriale. I pezzi brevi, pur nella loro eterogeneità (dal noise catastrofico di How The Engine Room Sounds alla malsana e geniale cover di Eruption di Eddie Van Halen), restano invece soltanto dei brevi schizzi legati l’un l’altro come parti di un progetto più ampio quasi che l’intera raccolta fosse da vedere come una sorta di concept del post slow-core. Un disco dal mood che si riallaccia ad un sottinteso carsicamente presente nella discografia dei Low, in episodi come Do You Know How To Waltz dall’album The Curtain Hits The Cast o come l’oscurità pressante dell’Ep Songs For A Dead Pilot.
Per chi scrive, e soprattutto visto il curriculum di chi suona, capolavoro dell’autunno.
~ Stefano Pifferi, Sentireascoltare

Silber, dont le catalogue ne cesse de surprendre, s'impose désormais comme l'antichambre des membres de Lycia, Aarktica et autres formations plus méconnues désormais tournées vers des expérimentations exigeantes. Le dernier à avoir rejoint l'étendard "Drone Love Honesty Sound" du label américain n'est ni plus ni moins que le tourmenté Alan Sparhawk dont on avait pu apprécier les errances slow core chez Low. C'est donc seul ici qu'il propose ce "Solo Guitar" où l'instrument roi s'étire, résonne, crispe ou élève. Enregistré live, mais usant de boucles et réverb, l'album reste dans un registre relativement brut et rêche, loin des ambiances plus métalliques et au final presque électroniques d'un Eluvium qui avait pourtant utilisé le même procédé sur son "Talk Amongst the Trees" en 2005. Le morceau fleuve How a Freighter Comes Into the Harbor voit néanmoins son final flirter avec l'indus expérimental, tandis que les autres compositions, courtes, alternent agressivité et mélancolie douce-amère. À l'inverse, dans la forme, Vlor fait office de "super-groupe" : Brian John Mitchell (Remora) ayant en effet soumis à plusieurs de ses amis plus d'une heure et demie de riffs et d'arpèges. Autour du fondateur de Vlor, projet créé en 1992 et auteur de deux EP, on retrouve en effet Jon DeRosa (Aarktica), Nathan Amundson (Rivulets), Jessica Bailiff, Jesse Edwards (Red Morning Chorus), Paolo Messere (6P.M.), et Mike Van Portfleet (Lycia) sur le vaporeux et marqué Days Like Smoke. Pour le fond, l'heure est également à l'épure et au minimalisme dans les arrangements, même si ces quarante minutes sont teintées de discrets claviers, de quelques instruments indiens, de violons et de vocalises voilées de Jessica Bailiff (voir Suncatcher). Deux projets, deux albums, un seul constat : la guitare n'a pas encore livré tous ses secrets.
~ Catherine Fagnot, Premonition

Alan 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 ambience 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.
~ Jason Lamoreaux, Somewhere Cold

If Low offers pop grace with the darker slices tucked in behind the harmonies and slipped in the lyrics, then this solo album by ALAN SPARHAWK is its conjugate. On the surface torn, ragged, thrashed, icy and harsh, but as your ears stare at it, the cracks and gashes unveil more radiant patterns. Not as majestic as NEIL YOUNG’s soundtrack to “Dead Man", but not far off that territory.  Some titles here beckon an oceanfaring documentary, but the overall sea change is not so far off “Secret Name” and “Songs for a Dead Pilot.” Here SPARHAWK has a tossed in a lot more maneuvers than Shakey’s wake for Blake. Fog horn drone notes, ripcord string whammy, digi del digital lay de digits. There is even “Eruption by Eddie Van Halen” which makes it sounds like an upscale perfume, but I think that is meant to be an “emotional” cover; if not a whispered message for Eddie to release a solo album of his own, and try and be half as experimental, half as naked, half as honest. And with “How It Ends", a short warm sweep, you get the sense that ALAN still lives in hope, through solo winters and high LOW summers.
~ Thurston Hunger, KFJC

‘Solo Guitar’ is the first solo exploration by Low’s frontman Alan Sparhawk. I’d admit I was definitely thrown a bit of a curve ball with this one, especially with that acoustic guitar on the cover, expecting perhaps just instrumental acoustic guitar music, but I was a bit off in my early guess. Instead Alan’s debut album is a type of ambient guitar drone similar to Aarktica, Remora, and True Colour of Blood. I’m always impressed by artists like Alan that are able to create this thick flowing wall of sound just by using a guitar. As you listen to this recording it takes you along this stream of dark drones where ambient and melody meet and permit you to enter a comatose like universe where your unable to move and all you can do is drift away silently. Occasionally some actual heavy riffs do pop up (most notable in Eruption by Eddie Van Halen) to remind you that your still alive, but then just as the action kicks in it smoothes out and let’s you continue your journey uninterrupted. All things considered, Alan’s debut is an interesting release, but like most experimental music its not something you’ll be able to understand immediately.
~ Joe Mlodik, Lunar Hypnosis

My friends used to make fun of me whenever we started talking about the music of Low, because I would inevitably tell the same story over and over again. It was the story of the first time I saw them in concert, shortly after I had discovered their music. The show was at Omaha's Cog Factory, a sketchy little speakeasy-esque joint that was something of a mainstay in Omaha's alt/underground scene. Until it was shut down for various infractions several years ago, that is.
It was as nondescript and barren as you could get -- concrete floors, a small stage with (maybe) some old PA equipment, stark flourescent lighting, and thousands of posters covering the walls. Oh, and no temperature control to speak of. Which made the place absolutely frigid on that particular winter evening.
There were less than 25 people at the show, and about half of them left after the opening band (obviously, this took place before Low became "big" in certain circles). Those of us who stayed stood there, shivering and watching our breath while Low stood there on the small stage, heads bowed and slightly swaying while delivering one of the most amazing concerts I've ever seen.
There was something almost pure and intimate about that evening. The freezing venue, the simple yet overwhelming music (this was around the time they released the stark The Curtain Hits The Cast), the small crowd, the absolute silence between songs -- it all resulted in one of the most reverent shows I've experienced.
There were two definite highlights from that show. One was "If You Were Born Today", which, if you've heard it, you know is an exceedingly moving Christmas song. The other was a performance of "Do You Know How To Waltz?", the 14-minute drone piece from The Curtain Hits The Cast. I've never seen Low perform that song since, but that night, they stretched it well past 14 minutes, creating a wall of sound that left my friends and I absolutely floored. It's one of their finest achievements, a perfect example of Low's ability to control and transform even the simplest sounds into something vast and expansive.
Solo Guitar finds Alan Sparhawk delving into the same droney, atmospheric territory contained within "Do You Know How To Waltz?". Or at least, the first (and best) half of the album does. The bulk of this first half is taken up by two songs; "Sagrado Corazon De Jesu (Second Attempt)" and "How A Freighter Comes Into The Harbor", and together, they account for over 30 minutes of feedback-drenched tones, drones, and riffing. Which, if not your cup of tea, you might as well stop reading now.
"Sagrado...", which clocks in at just under 14 minutes, has a vaguely middle-eastern sound to it, as Sparhawk improvises and feels his way through various scales and riffs. At times, it comes a little close to "shred" territory, as if Sparhawk took some time to channel his secret Steve Vai fascination. His guitar shrieks and wails, as if he's not so much playing as ripping out the notes.
However, the song moves at a very deliberate, even solemn pace, with stretches of silence where one can imagine Sparhawk contemplating, even meditating about the flurry of notes he's about to unleash; meanwhile, in the distance, the amps hum and crackle with feedback and anticipation. And of course, massive drones slowly circle around and throughout, creating a hypnotic and foreboding air that ultimately puts even the most explosive of Sparhawk's six-string pyrotechnics in perspective.
"How A Freighter Comes Into The Harbor" is an even stronger track, mainly because it's much more subdued. The song begins with single notes and simple chords ringing out and quickly disappearing, like foghorns ringing out in middle of the night and quickly muffled by the mist. Piece by piece, Sparhawk begins slowly building the song, laying the elements of the tense, ringing drone that will ultimately serve as the song's foundation. It's fascinating to look past what Sparhawk is doing at times, and focus only on what's taking place in the background. You can practically hear the amps building up steam until the high, keening central drone finally emerges.
It's difficult to call the piece "beautiful", as strong and arresting as it may be, due to the strong sense of mourning and foreboding that manifests itself early on and never subsides. In keeping with the title's nautical theme, it plays out like a elegy for drowned sailors, or perhaps an attempt to convey the sense of despair and loss as the waters closed in over their heads. And that high, keening drone, as it becomes more layered and intense, sounds increasingly like the cries of ghosts and banshees from across a godforsaken black sea.
Once the dronework gets going, it's hard to imagine that Sparhawk has any control over it whatsoever. Notes and guitar strums occasionally ring out, as do miscellaneous reverberations, but they are either quickly silenced by the drones, or quickly possessed and subsumed by them. In the song's final moments, the drones attain critical mass, collapsing in on themselves (and Sparhawk's amps) like reefs tearing through a ship's hull. The result is a twisted, screaming mass of feedback along the lines of David Pearce and Richard Walker's finest moments.
"How the weather hits the freighter..." implies the worst sort of storms you encounter in the open water, with huge swells of sound slamming into the listener from all sides. Unfortunately, at just under two minutes, it never has time to develop into anything else. And thus begins the album's second half, which is considerably patchier. The last five songs are mere sketches, if even that. They either clock in under a minute, or just rumble along with no time to development any interesting sounds that may appear. Rather, they go nowhere -- but make a lot of godawful noise while doing it.
Case in point: "How The Engine Room Sounds", which, with Alan's rumbling guitar, crackling feedback, and wordless, noise-soaked screams (which somehow made it over here from a Black-Eyed Snakes record), probably does sound like an engine room. But that doesn't mean it's at all interesting to listen to.
Solo Guitar will probably not appeal to most folks who are Low fans. If you're a fan of songs such as "Over The Ocean", "Shame", "Dinosaur Act", "Canada", "California", "Starfire", etc., you'll probably find this stuff a little too out there for your sensibilities. Even longtime fans who pick this up as a matter of due course will probably find themselves put off by Solo Guitar's second, arguably weaker half.
But Low have always had an experimental side to them, and have never been afraid of playing with more obtuse, less accessible sounds on recordings such as The Curtain Hits The Cast, Songs For A Dead Pilot, and even Trust. If you're enamored with that particular side of Low, than there are certainly parts of Solo Guitar that you'll find fascinating and challenging, even if they leave your ears ringing afterwards.
Many folks enjoyed the more rock-oriented sound that Low played with on The Great Destroyer. But Low's earlier material, which found them dabbling in these darker, more drone-oriented moments, are what solidified that minimalist aesthetic of their's in the first place, and are what arguably made them into the band they are today.
Sparhawk's guitar explorations, as obtuse and patchy as they are from time to time, do contain hints of those earlier moments of beautiful, difficult sound (such as "Do You Know How To Waltz?") And if these more challenging sounds do manage to somehow find their way into Low's future recordings, where they are polished and refined by Low's minimalist aeshetic, than I certainly won't mind. I can't think of a band that I want to see doing 15-minute noise/drone excursions more than this particular Minnesota trio.
~ Jason Morehead, Opus

An album which still fit to the Vlor album, but which is more stretched and makes use of feedback like droning effects is this album by Alan Sparhawk (Low, The Black-Eyed Snakes) using a guitar mostly and some metallic sounds for all the droning effects, with only a minor use of chords and melodies, based upon almost entirely on loop-and feedback effects, with background spherical guitar loops, infinite drones with an at times certain sleepy-droney effect of sometimes even only one note. Not really my cup of tea, but I prefer to list it here for some reasons.
~ Gerald Van Waes, Psyche van het folk

"Solo Guitar" (la couv' qui ne donne franchement pas envie), est la première sortie du projet solo d'Alan Sparhawk, membre du groupe pop indé minimaliste Low. Un album d'un calme absolu, presque emmerdant puisque pas une seule vague ne vient troubler cet océan paisible et mielleux de neuf titres pour 43 minutes (dont 30 en 2 morceaux). Alan, seul sur le sable face à la mer et les cheveux au vent, fait vibrer sa guitare, en joue un peu de temps en temps quand même, comme pour tenter de nous émouvoir ou pour nous sonder, nous transpercer de sa musique introspective transcendentale, mais la guitare est-il l'instrument le plus adéquat pour y parvenir ?
~ From Dusk til Dawn

Les fans transis de Low devront se souvenir, avant de se jeter sur ce premier exercice en solo d’Alan Sparhawk, que le trio est capable, en marge de sa discographie principale, de se lancer dans des digressions assez absconses (du style Do You Know How To Waltz ? et autres face B de singles édités à peu d’exemplaires). En l’occurrence, Sparhawk affiche ses intentions en ayant baptisé son premier album Solo Guitar. Loin des dernière compositions de Low, le guitariste est seul à bord avec sa guitare (et un bon nombre de pédales d’effets). Il s’aventure dans diverses directions, les abandonnant assez vite (les deux-tiers de morceaux durent moins de 2 minutes), pour mieux laisser dériver son imagination sur 2 longues plages d’improvisation construites autour de boucles de guitares trafiquées, étirées, délayées. Une véritable tension sous-tend l’ensemble (comme cette irritante imitation d’un train de marchandises freinant dans un bruit strident d’acier), évoquant certaines compositions de GY !BE ou lorsque les sons se diluent à l’infini à des groupes déjà résidents du label américain Silber (Remora, Aarktica). Un album globalement intéressant, mais pas de quoi affoler les fans de la pop intimiste de Low.
~ Autres Directions

Op de hoes prijkt een tekening van een gitaar van de hand van zijn dochtertje Hollis Mae. De eenvoudige tekening is een perfecte metafoor voor Solo Guitar, het soloalbum van Alan Sparhawk, voornameljik bekend als zanger-gitarist van Low. Verwacht echter geen album waarop hij zijn gitaar ter hand pakt om ingetogen liedjes aan de man te brengen. Neen, net zoals met zijn garagerockproject Black-Eyed Snakes keert Sparhawk zich nu ook weer af van het gekende - doch zeer gesmaakte - Low-concept.
Op Solo Guitar horen we Sparhawk die met tal van samples en loops aan het werk is en daar met zijn gitaar nog desolate ritmes overheen speelt. Hoewel hij opent met 'How the Weather Comes over the Central Hillside', een prachtige soundscape die bijzonder rijk is, zoekt hij nadien zijn heil in het gebruik van drony samples die het patroon uittekenen van het verdere verloop van Solo Guitar.
Soms wint een iets te onbeduidende, ijle sfeer daarbij de bovenhand, maar een minimaal nummer zoals ‘How a Freighter Comes into the Harbor’ roept toch wel vage herinneringen op aan de apocalyptische klanken die Godspeed You! Black Emperor in het verleden op de mensheid losliet en die door Sparhawk met sporadische gitaaraanslagen doorweven worden.
Verder weet Sparhawk waar nodig variatie aan te brengen en naast het mooie 'Sagrado Corazón de Jesú' trekken vooral de lichte noise-erupties van ‘How the Engineroom Sounds’ en ‘Eruption by Eddie van Halen’ de aandacht. En zo geeft Alan Sparhawk toch weer een tot nog toe onbekende kant van zichzelf prijs.
~ Hans van der Linden, Kindamuzik

A differenza del contenuto del disco, il titolo del debutto solista del chitarrista dei Low è tutt’altro che ermetico. Nove ardite improvvisazioni per sola chitarra elettrica che potrebbero lasciare di stucco chi ha apprezzato la svolta rock dei Low per l’ultimo “The Great Destroyer” o il flirt di Sparhawk con il blues dei Black-Eyed Snakes. Provate a far lavorare la fantasia, invece, e vi troverete proiettati in una traversata onirica tra echi del “Dead Man” di Neil Young e i primi due album dei Labradford, smarriti tra dense nebulose di drones (“Sagrado Corazón De Jesú”) e riverberi infiniti (i diciassette minuti di “How A Freighter Comes Into The Harbour”), dove persino l’improvviso apparire di una cover di “Eruption” dei Van Halen vi sembrerà possibile.
~ Raffaele Zappala, Rockerilla