You may notice some labels making recurrent and multiple appearances on this list and from year to year. These labels have become successful, forward thinking purveyors of boundary stretching music, so it is not surprising they are attracting the best of the best. Cuneiform has a long history in this field, which makes up and coming, virtuoso Anthony Pirog a good match. Rune Grammofon continues to support the ground-breaking work of modern guitar hero Stian Westerhus, while Anti and Nonesuch are becoming the go-to labels for roots artists looking to remain relevant.
Once again this is a purely subjective list, so please let me know if you feel strongly about a record I have left off. We are fortunate so much great modern guitar music is available, but it makes it hard for one man to keep up. Happy Holidays.
Raoul Björkenheim eCsTaSy Cuneiform Records
Appearing on the scene somewhere between Rypdal and Aarset, Björkenheim is an example of what has become a slew of Scandinavian guitarists pushing the envelope. His eCsTaSy band’s Ornette meets Jimi meets Fela sound recalls his ’90s power quartet, Krakatau.
Anthony Pirog Palo Colorado Dream Cuneiform Records
There is no mistaking the Frisell influence on Janel and Anthony guitarist Pirog’s solo debut, but his youth and serious chops add some aggression to the mix.
Sidsel Endresen & Stian Westerhus – Bonita Rune Grammofon
This perfectly matched pair’s second outing was recorded live in the studio. Though completely improvised, their intense musicality makes it sound thoroughly composed.
Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses: Maelstrom Rune Grammofon
Westerhus and company circle post-Radiohead/Bjork pop without losing any of their Avant edge. There are even (gasp) guitar solos—and they are fabulous.
QRD The Guitarists Silber Records
55 solo performances by 55 different modern guitarists are enough to keep Guitar Moderne going for years.
Radian and Howe Gelb Radian Verses Howe Gelb Raidan/Trost
Radian is just one of Spotlight artist Martin Siewert’s aggregations. He joined the band in 2011, replacing Stefan Nemeth. Their latest record is their first with Siewert. Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb guests.
Thomas Newman and Rick Cox 35 Whirlpools Below Sound Cold Blue
Who knew the composer of dozens of film scores from Revenge of the Nerds to The Help was an Avant-garde composer as well? Here he joins with frequent score contributor, and Guitar Moderne Spotlight subject, Rick Cox to produce 19 cues for a movie we would like to see.
Christopher Willits Opening Ghostly International
Once you pair guitar and laptop, developing a distinctive voice becomes even more difficult than usual. Willits has managed to carve out a unique personal sound that conjures up California dreaming as completely as the Beach Boys.
Fennesz Bécs Editons Mego
Featuring the most recognizable guitar as such in a while, Bécs adds drums (some courtesy of Radian’s Martin Brandlmayr) and synth, for a Fennesz epic.
Fred Frith and John Butcher The Natural Order Northern Spy Records
A master class in free improv by two pioneers who continue to expand the art.
Reeves Gabrels Bill Nelson Fantastic Guitars Sonoluxe
On this perfectly named record, two generations of modern guitar gods do more than shred—they meld to make real music.
Medeski Martin & Wood + Nels Cline Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 Woodstock Sessions
As close to a super group as modern improv has seen.
Nels Cline & Julian Lage Room Mack Ave
At first glance a duo as unlikely as the smooth jazz label that released this record, Cline and Lage prove to be Chester and Lester for the second decade of the new millennium, tossing angular riffs back and forth with the finesse of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Daniel Lanois – Flesh and Machine Anti
The Godfather of Roots Moderne strips away the songs and singers to reveal the man behind the curtain.
Bill Frisell Guitar in the Space Age Okeh/Sony
A touchstone of modern guitar goes back to his roots.
Jolie Holland Wine Dark Sea Anti
Holland’s abstract takes on country and blues offer the perfect launch pad for the Noir-named Indigo Street’s jagged fills and shards of noise solos.
Robert Plant Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar Nonesuch
Plant returns to North Africa and his best band since Zep. Justin Adams channels ancient desert rhythms through his Les paul, while “Skin” adds modern textures from his rack of effects.