Guitarist Ben Monder flashes a technique that’s close to ridiculous here, though you might miss it if you aren’t looking for it. On “Mistral,” the first number and a tune that sets the tone for everything that follows, only pedal tones from bassist Skuli Sverrisson accompany Monder. Fingerpicking broad chords, the guitarist surges through streams of notes so quickly and smoothly that the guitar seems to liquefy in his hands. But the music itself—distantly melodic and with a rambling charm—makes Monder seem like some lost branch of John Fahey’s “American primitive” sound.
On “Mistral” as on the rest of Excavation, Monder plays with a blurry, aquatic tone and largely subsumes his impressive technique in dreamy and oddly folklike settings—but a heavy-metal excursion in the colorfully titled “Hatchet Face” shows that Monder will toss in some spiky tangents now and then. He also recruits the singular vocal improviser Theo Bleckmann as a second frontline player. Bleckmann’s elfin, wordless melodies soar over the top of the group and only add to the dark, woodsy vibe. Playing a welcome role, drummer Jim Black injects some rock energy into the group and keeps the music from becoming a tad too fey.