Ben Monder: Excavation

Guitarist Ben Monder possesses such prodigious technique that songs can run away from him as he restlessly crams in every chordal variation. And this is mostly a very good thing, especially on Excavation.

While Monder does play single-note lines with a dark, almost underwater-sounding tone, his style is most defined by the speed, agility and harmonic dexterity of his arpeggios. Monder picks through chords like a spider spinning its web on speed, evoking a mixture of John Fahey’s fluidity and ’70s-era John Abercrombie’s lush but lulling tonality.

Two duets with electric bassist Skuli Sverrisson-the lead track, “Mistral,” and the seventh cut, “Windowpane”-are showcases for Monder’s spindly arpeggios, which hang in a state of ethereal suspension throughout the, respectively, nine- and 11-minute tunes. “Luteous Pangolin” and the more rollicking “Ellenville” bring in drummer Jim Black for Bill Frisellian chamberlike jazz-rock, that also features the gentle glossolalia of tenor vocalist Theo Bleckmann. More echoes of Frisell surface on “Hatchet Face” and “Etching,” where Monder uses a volume pedal for a wavy, unbalancing sound.

Monder closes the disc with a heavily reverbed solo acoustic version of “You Are My Sunshine,” a haunting reharmonization that evokes clouds more than sun. Here Monder’s technique is relatively sparse but no less captivating, confirming that his Excavation is well worth digging.