Alan Sparhawk: Solo Guitar

Ecstatic Sunshine: Freckle Wars

Vlor: A Fire is Meant for Burning

Three collections of guitar-based instrumental releases find the six-string very much alive in these predominantly digital times. Given the degree to which Freckle Wars unspools with jubilant speed metal ferocity, Ecstatic Sunshine seems the perfect name for the dual lead-guitar attack of Baltimore duo Matthew Papich and Dustin Wong. Their intricate pieces are methodically worked out but the sound is anything but po-faced; instead, the vibe is playful, exuberant, and wholly inviting. The disc's dozen instrumentals roar past at a breakneck 31 minutes, with more notes barreling through the minute and a half of “Pocketknife” than occur on other bands' entire albums. The ease with which the two settle into complex interlocking patterns without sacrificing any trace of swing impresses, especially when they segue so naturally between amped punk riffage, traditional folk picking, volcanic freakouts, and Crimson-styled lessons in guitar physics. The rambunctious “Ramontana” alternates between countrified picking and raw riffage perfectly becoming the Ramones homage the song presumably is, while “Tuscan” bridges warm melodicism with math-rock intricacy and chiming euphoria. An occasional moment of delicate reflection arises but for the most part the duo treats each song as an opportunity for their chiming six-strings to leap and bound at light-speed.

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.

Brian John Mitchell developed Vlor's A Fire is Meant for Burning's 12 guitar pieces by having formidable guests like Jon DeRosa (Aarktica), Mike VanPortfleet (Lycia), Nathan Amundson (Rivulets), Jessica Bailiff, and Jesse Edwards complete the 90 minutes of riffs and arpeggios he initially recorded alone. Some songs feature a couple of musicians while others a large number, allowing for effective contrast between full-bodied and skeletal arrangements. In “Wires,” Mitchell's guitar becomes an audible nucleus for the scalding swirl that swells around it. At various times, traces of DeRosa's bright harmonium, Bailiff's voice and violin, and Edwards' Indian instruments augment the songs' guitar foundations (the dreamily soft purr of Bailiff's singing is especially lovely on the fleeting “Suncatcher”). More often than not, however, settings like “Light at the Speed of Sound” are peaceful and ruminative in character; guitars drift through “Days Like Smoke,” for example, like tumbleweeds through a ghost town.

October 2006