"Guitar god," like "compassionate conservatism" or "dance punk," is a dated term to use in 2015: It brings to mind some spandex- or leather-clad dude—and inevitably a dude—legs spread, head down, playing an intricate metal solo very quickly. But guitar god is one of the few notions that accurately describes the sonic terrain explored out by Ava Mendoza. The guitarist, living in Brooklyn, New York, by way of Oakland, California, treats her instrument as a bottomless well of sound transcendence. Her playing moves from Rudolph Grey's ability to make a groove out of distorted pointillism to the dynamic intensity of Caspar Brotzmann, from the avant-blues abstractions of players such as Phillip Charles Lithman (aka Snakefinger), Henry Kaiser, and Fred Frith (with whom Mendoza studied during her time at Mills College) to the genre-defying sound of Nels Cline.
The Unnatural Ways trio is Mendoza's chief ensemble, and its new self-titled album from New Atlantis Records showcases her indelible way of blending genres and ideas. 'They'll Get You in Your Dreams Irene' boasts an almost-lullabylike melody that Mendoza alternately country-fies and blues vamps above. 'Feral Twin' begins in a proggy, sci-fi rush alongside keyboard player Dominique Leone and drummer Nick Tamburro before finding a compact jazz trio groove. And the chugging 'No Record' features Mendoza sculpting noise into riffs that Leone and Tamburro turn into a modal-ish jazz rock. (Though Leone and Tamburro appear on the recording, the current, touring Unnatural Ways lineup features bassist Tim Dahl and drummer Max Jaffe.)
She's even better when she's recombining rock with ingenious wit. On tracks such as 'The Furious Harpy's Still Following Us' and 'Danifest Mestiny,' Mendoza displays a sincere love for power-chord rock and irreverent humor, a combination that made post-rock hammer Brise-Glace so intoxicating. And on album opener 'Shapeshifter,' Mendoza impressively mainlines the lumbering throb of "The Process of Weeding Out"-era Black Flag and makes it swing.