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There is this Thing People Masturbate With...

...called a guitar. Some are legendary in their prowess, some merely get the job done, but recent solo guitar albums by Low's Alan Sparhawk and unearthed traditionalist Harry Taussig move beyond the standard wankery

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: July, 2006
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
by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: July, 2006
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

called a guitar. Guitars are a lot like home computers - they are multi-faceted highly personalisable versatile tools that more often than not are put in the service of masturbation. And I'm not knocking masturbation - I think it may be the driving impulse of Western Civilization. All philosophy, politics, war, business, empires of every stripe can be boiled down to an oversized wank when you've had enough liquor in your system to argue such meaningful topics. Even the high art that can come out of these machines has a twinge of spit and ardor in its perfume. The guitar has an added structural proclivity, with the long neck that one must traipse up and down to induce moaning and explosions (albeit with the wrong hand) and eye and writing hand generally concentrated on the crotch to keep things going the way you want, hoping for that moment where your own hand surprises you, and through that improvised maneuver, life and death supernova for but a glorious moment.

There is this specialized branch of the Grand wank that is often referred to as Art, and guitars are good for reaching that goal. All the notes are laid out on one convenient phallus so that any numskull with 15 minutes and some rudimentary knowledge of the workings can choke out some Art. But maybe more celebrated that all other masturbateurs is the one that creates Great Art from this makeshift member, slapped together of wire and wood and occasionally, low current. Doing a quick air guitar solo, thanks largely to Wayne's World's unforeseen legacy, is the simultaneous embodiment of triumph, and more subtly, of climax. The styles with which a happy guitar ending can be achieved are many, but here are two that get me off as regular as my wrinkled stash of Penthouse.

Alan Sparhawk
Solo Guitar
(Silber Media)

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 Coraz??n de Jes?? (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.

Harry Taussig
Fate is only Once
(Thompkins Square)

This little CD came to my attention when I wandered into my local indie rock shop while my car got serviced around the block, and since I was about to drop too much money on something I didn't immediately enjoy unto itself, like a compressor, I decided to address this cosmic imbalance but blowing a little money on something I would. One could apply Newtonian Laws of Thermodynamics to not only this situation, but into the cosmology of the topic discussed in the opening paragraph, but this album is so surprisingly good that I'll try to stay the course. At first, the squarer-than thou cover art led me to think this might be some David Cross gag album along the faux-folk lines of "A Mighty Wind" but the talk of American primitive guitar on the blurb on the back dispelled that. AP is a travesty of a misnomer applied to a subset of acoustic guitar magi like Robbie Basho, Leo Kottke and the fountainhead, John Fahey - all of which are characterized by intricate finger-styling and a slightly Eastern take on the American country-folk idiom. Transcendental Hillbilly Music is a more apt description.

Anway, count Harry Taussig in that number. On this reissue of his hopelessly obscure, solitary 1968 album, the opening strike of "Baby Let Me Lay It on You" is so undeniably uncool, yet so devastatingly brilliant that his mastery is beyond debate. And what I find as a fan of this obscurest music is that the novice recoils because of the deserved milquetoast patina folk music projects, but this stuff is deeper, wider, and cosmic. He does a couple famous numbers like "Darktown Strutter's Ball" and "National ragtime Stomp" and probably some more (these cats know more songs than you and I know people) but its in the contemplative numbers like "Blues for Zone VIII" and the positively cathedral "Sugar Baby, Your Papa Cares for You" that things start to levitate. There is something in listening to AP that is akin to stumbling on the clockwork of the universe, ticking passively away behind some brush you unknowingly pass every day, doing whatever boring terrestrial thing it is you do every day. And should you be worried, I believe that it is temporarily cool to be caught dead listening to it. You can say that it was name-checked in an Animal Collective review in some magazine that will probably fold before your fact-checker has a chance to verify it. But just like any good pathway to Sweet Climax, the journey can only be justified by the end and it is a journey that one must embark on, brave and often, alone.

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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