- Surf Music
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Center of the Surf
Calling The Madeira a Surf Band is like calling the Boston Pops a municipal orchestra, it’s true, but doesn’t really tell the whole story. One of the great things about the Boston Pops is that they could play familiar songs, and make them sound recognizable, yet include complexity that was there for the taking if you cared to give it second, deeper listen.
Likewise, The Madeira operates on more than one level. At first listen, it is Surf music, well performed and accessible, but there is more to it than that. Going past a casual listen you can hear a complex harmonic concept and some devices not commonly heard, such as Hungarian minor scales which add a refreshing element which set this band apart from many of their peers.
In this day of low cost home recording, it is possible to have nearly infinite takes and each member can contribute parts recorded in the comfort of their own home, but live recordings are another matter altogether. There’s nothing to hide behind in a live setting, which brings us to their latest offering. Together, let us Journey to the Center of the Surf, which coincidentally, is the title of the first track.
Journey to the Center of the Surf starts off with an energetic introduction gives way to a melody with depth and then refrains which return to the energy of the intro. The bridge breaks the tension and returns us to a variation on the melody with the high energy refrain shortly thereafter. One never quite knows what to expect next in Journey to the Center of the Surf.
Hail, Poseidon! starts off sounding a bit like an ‘80s Pop tune, think U2 or The Police, but then goes into a clear minor key melody with an ascending motif which builds tension until it cascades back to the starting point of the melody. Somewhere around the 60% mark the intro is repeated and while the timbre is quite different from the body of the song, it fits perfectly.
Ancient Winds is mellow, but still energetic. To my ear, the harmonic structure is what stands out the most. Descending chords resolve in interesting ways. Once again, this is a song full of surprises.
The Argonaut starts with classic high energy drums followed by a flurry of energy from the lead Guitar which then builds to the melody. The energy and feel are reminiscent of Dick Dale while the melody sounds like it could easily fit a SciFi theme. Behind all of this, the rhythm guitar drives on providing a very solid sonic backdrop.
Leviathan fits its name well. There is little consensus about what a Leviathan actually is, a sea monster, crocodile or some other kind of frightening beast from the deep, but this song contains more than enough drama to cover all of the above. It is the feel of classic Surf at its best. A key change a little past the halfway point boosts things slightly along the way, but the song hardly needs it.
Into the Deep is more introspective and provides a change of pace. One could easily imagine this song in the background of a quiet interlude in a James Bond movie. Of everything on the album, this strikes me as the most evocative. Could this represent the thoughtful period one would feel after surviving an encounter with a Leviathan? Whether intentional or not, the order of these two songs, Leviathan and Into the Deep, is perfect.
Dilmohammed sounds very much a part of the Middle East. The mind is drawn to visions of ancient marketplaces, tents and camels. Starting somewhat softly the body of the song comes on strong. The Surf drums work beautifully against the melodic motifs. The sound is exceptionally simple and straightforward, contributing to the impression of the ancient bazaar. It is appropriate that this song was first recorded on an EP entitled Ruins, it sounds like it should accompany a movie scene set in a place that was very busy, and filled with intrigue, long, long ago.
Undercurrents is a song with a strong melodic element, supported by a solid clean sound which harkens to early Surf and even before. This melodic element does not, however, restrict the harmonic motion in any way. There’s a lot going on in this relatively short song.
Ricochet is originally from the Sandstorm CD. While the speed is right up there, the energy level is a bit more relaxed. A Shadows device of repeated ending to a phrase is employed at the end of the first verse and as rapidly as the notes come along, the timbre of the lead guitar is bright but nowhere near harsh. I hear a lot of Shadows in this track.
From this point on, the quartet becomes a sextet with the additions of John Blair on guitar and Johnpaul Balak on bass. The power increases noticeably with these additions and a powerful band becomes a sonic juggernaut, without resorting to heavy distortion. Never does the sound use definition.
Tribal Fury has a power that is reminiscent of Link Wray. While nothing on this album could be described as languid, this track is like a string of powerful locomotives moving a heavy line of cars up a mountain pass. “This ain’t your pappy’s surf music” is spoken at the end and indeed, it is so.
Sandstorm starts off twangy, a la Duane Eddy but then the Surf feel comes to the fore. After the bridge the song mixes it up, returning to the Duane feel at times but never straying too far from the less laconic feel of Surf as opposed to the twangy vibe of Instrumental Rock’s first guitar hero.
The Intruder (Listed as Intruder #1 & Intruder on the Ruins EP) starts off almost softly (in a loud sort of way due to the live setting) and proceeds along the lines of a modified Andalusian Cadence which brings to mind Flamenco Music. About a minute and a half in the pace becomes considerably less laid back and the energy of the song goes off-scale, complete with power chords, as Intruder #1 gives way to Intruder. Having two basses and two rhythm guitars on this track redefines the term “Wall of Sound”. About halfway through there is a lull which then slowly builds back to a much higher level of energy. The bass plays arpeggiated figures which contribute to the melodic interest of the tune as it reaches a climatic, and sudden end.
One thing that strikes me is the quality of the writing. Patrick O’Connor wrote five of the songs, Ivan Pongracic wrote or co-wrote five songs with the two remaining songs apparently having come from outside of the band. None of the songs are predictable, most of them are harmonically rich, even complex. None of the songs are particularly laid back, with the exception of Into the Deep, but the overall level of energy and excitement varies greatly, even in different passages within the same song.
I will add only this, from my perspective as a player. Playing Surf without sounding shrill is far from an assured outcome. It takes skill and experience to find the balance. Well played Surf music is a technique-intensive exercise for all musicians. In many ways, the songs on this album are probably as challenging as many classical pieces. The right-hand tremolos involved amaze me. What I hear on this live recording stands up well to the standards of speed set by Dick Dale himself. The sound of the band avoids the all-too-common mistake some Surf bands make of too much reverb. (All banter aside, it is possible to have too much reverb on a Surf recording and it can really detract when overused.)
The live performance is solid, the songs well-written and imaginative. This may be one for the record books.
Check out this review from Hunter at Storm Surge of Reverb:
Let me suggest that you skip the first track. It's a good song, but it's got a thin garage-surf sound that gets the wrong idea across.
OK now we're going. You've got brass, a lot more low end, and some whammy bar. This is a much better idea of what to expect from Los Kosmos. This is fun modern surf with playful progressive leanings. I get moments of later Los Straitjackets and maybe even early Laika and the Cosmonauts (especially "V Jope Fantik"). Give a listen to "Mega Hit" and see if that little keyboard bit doesn't tickle you.
There's a lot of creativity on this album and it's full of surprises. As one of the first records of 2018, we're off to a great start.
"Shootout" just WON FIRST PRIZE in the 2016 Dallas Songwriters Association Contest (Instrumental). The award page cites Insanitizers guitarist Conrad Swartz as the songwriter ("Squid" here on SG101). Here is a link to the awards page:
Along with that web page announcement is a video announcement, on the third in a sequence of video recordings of the contest awards program. "Shootout" is the first song on The Insanitizers' October 2016 album "Guitar Fun" and is followed by 21 more energetic guitar instrumentals. You can hear it at Insanitizers.com, and the CD album is sold by DWM Music, Deep Eddy Records, CD Baby, etc.
In this contest "Shootout" competed against instrumentals of any genre, so this shows that surf guitar music remains interesting and competitive. In recording the lead Conrad used a Rose Mariposa pickup near the bridge on a strat style guitar.
Martin Cilia's "Sleepwalk" EP on Bombora label
Sleepwalk - This is Martin's cover of the title track (original by Santo & Johnny), with stellar playing as well as typically lush echoes. IMO this is one of those timeless tunes (or something like it) that everyone should have in their pocket for the moment when you need to get some folks close on the dance floor. A beautiful example. Evident here, and throughout the album, rock-solid drumming by Lloyd Gyi, who should be well-known to many here by now and is an established fixture it seems now on Martin's solo work - the guy is simply incredibly versatile.
Search for Surf - Prominently notable are some exotic keyboard/synth arrangements that really complement the guitar voicing. The tune is a bit haunting in its approach. There is a faint, chordal backing vocal credited to Carmine Warrington and the keyboard work is done by Jim Moginie. Cool stuff.
No Sign of a Pipeline - This is a driving instrumental ballad (composer Michael Simic) that reminds me of some of the best work done by Martin on the Atlantics' albums Flight of the Surf Guitar or Point Zero. I could visualize them doing this live.
Lost in Waikiki - A Martin Cilia authored straightforward surf tune, with almost a hip Nashville-picker structure, but laden with Martin's classic tone. I can see Brad Paisley sitting on his couch thinking he'd like to have a go at this, but he's gonna have to call Martin first. In concept, this tune would've fit hand-in-glove with the previous full album release, Going to Kaleponi.
Surf Explosion - A tune I have an earlier version of and this new version has a slow, foreboding intro with some grit and lovely tremelo before launching into blistering staccato picking for the song that is one of those 200bpm E-ticket rides. In my view, the new intro really sets up the song & makes for a much more finished piece. In the tradition of things like "Flight of the Surf Guitar" this is sort of like "get in, sit down, hold on & shut up." For those interested Martin makes the full tab & MIDI backing tracks (with and without melody) available here:
Martin's stuff continues to please and his generosity, both to players in answering questions and particularly to this site, is well-known. I'm often amazed at how down-to-earth some of the really great players are - and there are many here at Surf Guitar 101 - that one has a hard time imagining that rapport existing in many other styles of music. Folks who, absent the music, you could simply have a nice chat with, whether it's down by a canal under a city street or via email 12,000 miles away.
Sleepwalk is available here, along with the video of the title track. Get it.
A Visit to "Garageland"
Getting past the really cool and title-appropriate cover photo, this EP is a great one to snag for those who've been living in a cave & are not yet familiar with these Nashville "cats" where instro is alive & thriving. For the gear heads, I'm told the guitars were all through a Quilter 101 Micro - that should settle that. Jeff Senn can (hopefully) speak in the forum to any particular cabinets & effects used used.
Scorpions - This track is by (normally) rhythm player Kiwamu Stewart. You know, the guy that helps keep that groove going as well as filling out an unreal number of parts that make their live performance so full and "record-like." So this is Kiwamu's composition, rhythm & lead played, and it's got a VERY definite Crazy Ace familiarity to it. Somewhat reminds me of an anti-hero who gets in his very fast car in the dead of night & is blowing town, but has heartstrings being tugged as well as some some payback remaining to be dealt out. Nice to have Kiwamu expand his role in this way.
Rudy's Revenge - I'm told the basic groove comes from Alex McCollough ably holding down the bass duties, with the rest fleshed out by the band. Throw the parasol out of your cutesy drink and get moving on the floor. As often with Crazy Aces there is a brief foreboding bridge but one that maintains the groove. (The beat on this one is grand-daughter-approved.)
Trail of the Mystery Men? - I had to listen to this one several times over several days. It begins with a familiar Crazy Ace like western vibe that recurs - and a sound I would've sworn was the setup for Eastwood Outlaw on their first album, Greatest Hits Vol. 2. (But, as mentioned, this is Quilter 101.) The composition is something a bit different and it seems the cinematic good-idea-faerie struck Jeff Senn, as it segues to sequences that could be a summary of several themes that would be evident throughout an old-west tale, but used for different scenes. I came to visualize two antagonists, neither good or bad, but rivals who may or may not do each other in. The story can weave as the imagination takes it, as they dance through the plot. There are brief stops to more orchestral movements that are somewhat whimsical when juxtaposed against the obvious Crazy Aces nod to the genre. The acoustic guitar work from Jeff is stellar; almost thought I was listening to a Tommy Tedesco lesson from the back of a GP mag.
Modelo Uno - A clearly Latin-flavored tune (to my ear) that really showcases the Model One guitar. Those who've seen the demo of the Eastwood-produced/Jeff Senn-designed Model One will be familiar with this tune. Lovely tremelo at no extra charge. (Can't wait for my own Modelo Uno.) For me, it's a happy tune and hearkens to heading down a cul-de-sac & finding that someone's garage door IS open and, "hey!, there's a band!" (But then I'm in my sixties goin' on 15, so...)
Chop and Channel - This final track said hot rod to me immediately. Probably a dated analogy but, for me, it's headed out of town for the proverbial chicken run as depicted in many films from James Dean to American Graffiti. There is a building climax that still comes back to the groove, which is like an anchor allowing some melodic departures that are cool when executed this well.
This is one of those bands whose members clearly play for the good of the song, with their egos resolutely checked before walking through the door. Plenty of sonic room allowed in the mix for everything that matters. (I can often recognize Jeff by his humorous quirk of sometimes just taking the finishing note of a V-chord and hitting something a 1/2 step higher or lower, bending optional, and it says "I'm havin' fun.")
Pre- and post- Surf Guitar 101 Convention Crazy Aces will be:
at Don the Beachcomber's, Friday, August 12th at, 9:00 PM, along with Outerwave, as well as
Huntington Beach Pier Plaza: Huntington Beach, CA, Sunday, August 14th, with a full lineup starting at 11:00 AM.
I hope lots of SG101 Convention goers will hit the early slot in the day and catch Crazy Aces - they will not regret it. You can sleep when you get old; suck it up buttercup.
Crazy Aces are: Jeff Senn, Kiwamu Stewart, Alex McCollough with Justin Amaral joining on very solid drums for this release. Hope we hear more from Justin with them.
The latest CD by the group is the fourteenth in my collection recorded in a period of 20 years. 10 tracks, playing time 28 minutes and 16 seconds.
From the first hearing I thought "Welcome to England", as the first two cuts sound very British like Shadows material.
Track 3 (Sand Dust) reminds me of the Atlantics (Australia), track 4 Tabitito Yo is a slow tune with a hit potential like "The Endless Summer" by The Sandals from 1964.
My favorite tune is Nr. 6 "Por Que" with some guitar licks imitating Dick Dale style from the sixties! Track 8 "Tug Of Wolves" is another fine example of the Surf Coasters fine playing of all instruments in an uptempo tune.
The other songs are very well played as well but i.m.o. nothing special.
When I was in Hollywood at the YMCA in March 1978 I watched on tv an interview with rock and roll hero Fats Domino. He was asked why he plays always his old hits. He replied "I am happy when I can make the audience happy and they do like the old tunes so I do play them for my audience to make them happy!"
The Surf Coasters have so much material done and so they can choose easily to make the audience happy (like I understand from the reviews about their gig at the SJSF 2016 in Livorno)!
Well done folks. Hope more to come!
I'm not sure if I'm behind on this revelation or not, but if you haven't heard The Amphibians new CD, "Enigma of the Deep", you really should check it out. I saw them the other night in Atlanta (in full regalia), where I picked up the CD. Great show, and the CD was in constant repeat all the way home. I listened to it more than 7 times on my 420 mile trip, and more since then. These 7 songs are well crafted gems that bear more dissimilarities than similarities to their inspirations. Very much original sounding, with solid playing and exquisite tone and arrangement, and excellently produced and recorded (an understatement). These songs deserve to see the light of day.
You guys Rawk,
Hello everyone! We have just released our latest EP, Learning to Ride. Here is a quick little write up from Storm Surge of Reverb.
The Me Gustas have shrunk from 3 to 2 members between their last LP and this EP, but it doesn't show. They've doubled down on the spaghetti westerns, and that solitary feel fits a guitar-and-drums combo pretty well. Though short, it's got a fun spirit to it and 50% of your purchase of the EP goes to the organization Guitars Not Guns.
The Me Gustas
Expressway Sketches is a German quartet of jazz musicians who don't play surf music. As the title indicates, they love surf music but this cd doesn't prove that they can play it.
In the liner notes you read: "Among the most successful groups were The Ventures, Duane Eddy, Dick Dale, The Shadows and The Marketts".
Playing time is 44 minutes and 38 seconds for 14 songs.
You´ll hear free jazz improvisations in Acetone, Hype Out, Flambres (Abre La Puerta, Dreiteiler.)
One Eyed Jack could have been a good tune if there wasn't the keyboard destroying the tune. Schlurf is a jazzy instrumental, all the other tracks are "normal" instrumentals.
In the liner notes they put the question "Does it really make a difference whether you're improvising on a jazz standard or a Surf song?" I do think so.
IMHO a cd for crazy nuts like me who buy everything with a label "surf" on it or people who enjoy new sounds.
There are some tracks visible on YouTube. Please check it out. I recommend however to buy The Insect Surfers or The Mermen cds when you want to hear good sophisticated sounds of the future.
The Cruncher's new CD “Schlicktown Surf” was released on January 11th and since then Herbert has mailed copies to friends and distributors.
In America it will be availabe from DWM Music (http://www.dwmmusic.com/), in England from BIM BAM Records (http://www.bim-bam.com/), in Germany from CD-Import + Versand International, Walter Bubenzer (e-mail: WBubenzer@t-online.de) and Kamikaze Records (http://www.kamikaze-records.de/shop/home.cfm), or write directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will get 20 instrumentals between 1.46 and 5.46 minutes long. The total playing time is 60.21 minutes.
There are happy go lucky tunes like Pow Wow, El Azul, Going Back to Memphis,Flash Flood, High Octane or Jezebel.
Squad Car is not the Eddie Bertrand´s tune but one of Don Cole - the original I have never heard I have to confess! The same is to Surfer´s Blues written by Les Green.
Some tunes are played in a Duane Eddy twangy guitar sound with additional saxophone, piano. organ or even strings.
There are tunes where you sit and say – “wow, I have to listen carefully what the Cruncher did here”. Tracks like the spacy sounding “Skyrider”, Jefferson Airplane's “White Rabbit” or the classic “Don't Be Cruel”. Forget about the lyrics in your ear and just listen to these great instrumental versions!!
As Herbert is not only a guitarist but also a producer and arranger in some cases (“Genesis” or ”My Hometown” – his own composition) he tried to find out how many instruments and sounds he could add to the tune and how it sounds afterwards. I am waiting for the public reactions to these efforts.
IMHO this is the Crunchers most sophisticated music output so far. My favorites are Taboo, White Rabbit, Skyrider.