Label: Sub Pop Release date: 26/1/10 Website: Official Website Before 2008, who would’ve guessed that Alan Sparhawk was a closeted aficionado of 70’s arena rock? Of course, Retribution Gospel Choir’s eponymous debut shattered our impressions of Sparhawk as the perennially Eeyore-faced frontman of Slowcore pioneers Low. With 2 Sparhawk furthers the dichotomy of his two writing styles, pushing deeper into the realm of epic stoner-rock than their debut dared to venture. At the outset we are given four splashes of an open high hat as a warning that this absolutely will not be a Low album. Further testimony to that fact is the wave of distorted electric guitars that immediately follows, and ‘Hide It Away’ is a telling indicator of what the album will be. It’s driven by clever, hooky verses, building, constantly, toward the inevitable fuzzed out bridge. An album this formulaic could perhaps be derided as simple or boring, but 2 is nothing of the sort. Although the means of each track are similar, the ends are quite different. Several of the following tracks don’t deviate too much from the path established by the opener, ‘Poor Man’s Daughter’ relies on punishing tom rolls and tense harmonies to build to an epic crescendo mid-song, but none of them sound similar to the point of becoming indistinct. ‘Poor Man’s Daughter’, in fact, capitalizes on the extreme crescendo by pulling the emotional rug out from under the listener’s feet. We are treated to the mellowest moment on the album, complete with slowly strummed acoustic guitars and sweet wordless melodies. In terms of style and pacing Sparhawk has produced an album that’s a bit like Keep It Like A Secret era Built to Spill. He alternates the aforementioned build-build-build-crescendo formula with insistent power pop in a manner that’s striking similar to Doug Martsch’s modus operandi. I wouldn’t have a single gripe with the album, if not for the moments when the band veers from these indie rock roots, deeper into the realm of played out classic rock. ‘White Wolf’, with its insistent guitar drive, obviously keys on these influences and could benefit from being a little more Zeppelin and a little less Cheap Trick. It’s not the end of the world, and although it may suffer out of context, ‘White Wolf’ serves as the straight man to the noisy experimentalism of ‘Something’s Gonna Break’. It plays some interesting tricks on your ear to have what would have been at one point the most commercially successful song followed directly by the noisest, most grating song on the record (and of course I mean noisiest and most grating in the best way possible) Sparhawk and Co. have produced an album worthy of your attention, and while it doesn’t hide its flaws too well, 2 is a very interesting moment in the compelling career of one of the foremost figures in indie rock. Rating: 7.5/10
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