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Ben Monder: Oceana

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It may be named after bodies of water, but Ben Monder’s long-awaited new album has a predominantly airy feel. That’s partly a given–whether on electric or acoustic guitar, Monder heeds a floating sensibility–but he also encourages the idea. Among the album’s seven tracks are “Light,” “Rooms of Light” and “Double Sun”; the only aquatic cut is “Oceana” itself. And one of the most prominent timbres is the unearthly falsetto of Theo Bleckmann, wordlessly soaring like a gull. (So maybe it’s a seagull, but still.)

Whatever the element, this is a brilliantly distinctive album. Monder’s shimmering arpeggios and shifting rhythms, and the deep synchronicity of bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Ted Poor, make the title track a serious opus. “Echolalia,” a lilting samba, offers a personal miniaturization of the Pat Metheny Group. “Rooms of Light” finds Skuli Sverrisson replacing Driscoll for some razor’s-edge fusion, complete with fuzz tones and choppy meters; the bassist stays aboard for “Spectre,” which sounds as diaphanous as its name suggests.

Remarkably, Monder delivers two album highlights unaccompanied. “Rooms of Light” and “Still Motion,” his solo-guitar pieces, are miracles of technical and emotional expression. It’s hard to imagine another player reaching these particular heights, or depths.