Ben Monder, Excavation Arabesque AJ0148, 2000 Cyberhome: www.arabesquerecords.com Guitarist Ben Monder packs this highly original album with a panoply of ideas. The dreamlike voice of Theo Bleckmann gives the music an almost medieval, spooky quality. The compositions couldn't be more modern, however. "Ellenville" and "Hatchet Face" are the album's epic statements, combining serious grooves with technically staggering ensemble passages, wordless vocalizing, and brilliant guitar playing. How Bleckmann manages to sing Monder's highly complex lines is a mystery. "Mistral" and "Windowpane" are built around dense, repeated arpeggio figures that spiral into patterns within patterns, creating a dizzying harmonic whirlpool. "Luteous Pangolin" and "Sunny Manitoba" are melodic and relatively straightforward; the latter gives Monder, bassist Skuli Sverrisson, and drummer Jim Black a chance to lay back and blow over chord changes. "Etching," an amorphous, atmospheric piece, features the album's only lyrics. Finally, "You Are My Sunshine" finds Monder on solo acoustic guitar, putting the famous children's song through its paces.
Excavation contains some of the most unique, invigorating music released during the year 2000. ~David R. Adler
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