Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Madeira "Ancient Winds" review

The Madeira "Ancient Winds" (Double Crown Records)
By Richard Hawes, November 8, 2015

The Madeira are one of the best surf/instrumental bands in the world today. That's an opinion, but a Google search will tell you I'm not alone in it. I'll refer to them as a surf band, but that's not a totally apt description. There are decades of influences heaped on top of that, but for practical reasons the label works well enough. A friend of mine calls them "power surf," which I think works a bit better. They have always been a BIG sounding band, and they sound remarkably distinctive for a band that's a lot more rooted in their surf roots than many of their contemporaries to whom the surf label is more loosely-applied. Their melodies and arrangements are always complex and interesting, which is to say every song has a hook and a strong melody. If you're a musician of any kind, there's a lot here to appreciate. If you're just a music fan and like anything you find that's good, I say the same.

The Madeira have always tended toward the anthematic, and Ancient Winds takes that to the next level. This is an instro-surf rock OPERA. If you follow the titles of the tracks and listen, there's not just a theme but a story brewing that works really well in my mind. My favorite bands in instrumental rock genres have something I vaguely refer to as ambiance. It's not just how they package themselves; there's a tone and character to the music that's evocative, and The Madeira have this in spades. They have their own finely honed and distinct sound that combines driving surf rock and various "exotic" elements (I'll let you look/listen and draw your own conclusions about what that means) with the band's other rock/metal influences. All this while still managing to vary the tone and mood enough to keep the album from getting "samey," and even within each individual song there are a lot of dips and swells. The very first track, "Journey To The Center of The Surf" is a good example and an excellent start to the album.

Another factor that makes this such an epic album is that in addition to the considerable songwriting talent of the two guitar players, Ivan Pongracic and Patrick O'Connor (I like to listen to the albums without looking at the writing credits to try to guess who wrote what), there are tracks co-written by some of the most talented songwriters in instrumental rock alive. First and most notable is the collaboration with Jim Skiathis of legendary Australian instrumental combo from the '60's, The Atlantics, on the song "The Argonaut." As is usually the case with a Madeira release, there's also a cover of an Atlantics song, "Coral Reef." The track "Hail, Poseidon!" was co-written by Jeremy DeHart of long-running surf mainstays, The Aqualads, who've been turning out strong material for decades. "Dawn in Cadiz" is a collaboration with Alex Faide of the world-renowned Los Twang Marvels. Last but absolutely not least is "Sirena" with Danny Snyder of The Tomorrowmen. Talking about any one of these songwriters and their respective bands would require a whole other review, but their contributions here are momentous.

What they've achieved with this album is most significant in the context of every album that came before it. Few bands, especially bands that make some REALLY good albums, manage to make a better one each subsequent time. This time, yet again, they have with Ancient Winds. Every one of their previous albums is well worth checking out, and given their trajectory you may even want to start back there and work your way toward this one.

purchase: Double Crown Records, Amazon, iTunes
stream: Spotify

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