Anybody who's longed for Last Splash-era Breeders should heartily welcome back alt-rock prodigal Donita Sparks. After shuttering seminal female grunge act L7 in 2000, following a couple of disappointing late-'90s discs, Sparks returns with less bombastic bluster, and more sauntering sway, on her solo debut, Transmiticate.
Still backed by "Goddess of Thunder" Dee Plakas, her L7 drummer, Sparks shuffles through mid-tempo rock that often resembles the early exploits of the Deal sisters, especially in the ringing girl-group pop undertone to "Creampuff" and the rubbery bass riff of "My Skin's Too Thin." Sparks spares the larynx with a cool, dispassionate croon; like Kim Deal, she often doesn't sing so much as deliver her lines with a certain swagger (a style once perfected by Lou Reed). But unlike the Breeders' recent output, the songs have enough hooks and aloof allure for listeners to get behind their nicely syncopated grooves.
Sparks was an underappreciated guitarist, which Transmiticate's reduced reliance on riffage makes more apparent. While the raw, chugging garage-punk of "Infancy of a Disaster" and the rockabilly-tinged punk rave "Need to Numb" hark to her hard-charging history, there's generally a lot more light and air in the cuts. "Headcheck" offers a spiraling psych-guitar plume over a skittering dance-punk beat, while a loose-hipped swivel (and plenty of cowbell) give "Dare Dare" a kicky punk-funk bounce.
The blue hair's gone. It's been a decade since she confessed that touring with Ministry could make even party-hardened pros like L7 feel like high schoolers. But Sparks' spunky spirit survives in a fetching, somewhat familiar guise.
Donita Sparks and the Stellar Moments with special guest. 8 p.m. Sun. June 15. 31st Street Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $12. 412-391-8334 or www.31stpub.com
- Familiar guise: Donita Sparks