My own Madeira favorites vs Archipelago

Archipelago: The Best of the Madeira

The new surf label House of Tabu is releasing Archipelago: The Great Hits of the Madeira. Normally I wouldn't review a greatest hits album. There are certainly plenty of new releases that I'm not reviewing that are more worthy than talking about songs I already know. But I thought it would be a fun exercise to approach this differently: how about I make my own greatest hits and see how it matches up?

So here's how I approached this: I did a quick listen to The Madeira's discography. Just about all of it is enjoyable, but I skimmed it for the ones that perked up my ears upon hearing it. The ones that stuck with me. I kept out pretty much all of the Ruins EP because those are mostly covers. I left the live albums out not because I didn't think anything from those might end up on a Greatest Hits, but the hair-splitting between versions seemed like too much work when there are other things I could be reviewing... like Lords of Atlantis.

Anyway, that ended up with this. There were some on the back but I have since lost that post-it.

Post-it of Madeira songs

So that ended up with 21 songs. Don't think that's going to fit on a single vinyl record. So I'll allow myself to peek and look at HOW MANY tracks there on Archipelago, while kind of blurring my eyes and not looking at the actual tracks.

12. Alright, a lot of these will have to go.

So there are a few that I circled as essentials.

Sandstorm! - The Madeira's thunderous "Hello World". I have "The first five minutes of Sandstorm are the greatest five minutes of surf rock released in a year with a 2 at the front". That was eight years ago, there's been a lot more music in this millenium. Will I stand by it? I dont' know. Will I disagree with myself? No.

Undercurrents - Something about hearing this one on Center of the Surf really brought out an urgency to this otherwise mysterious song that cemented it as one of my favorites. Those reaching high notes and the plunging lows... true classic.

Cities of Gold - The Madeira have some fantastic intros to their songs, and to be honest this doesn't strike me as one of them, but that refrain is so simple and so brilliant that this song could go on for 10 minutes and still feel fresh.

The Ritual - Monsterous and somehow tender. I previously described it as "a lullaby for the Kraken" and that image is branded onto this song since then.

Caravela - The link here is for a live version, but the recording on Ancient Winds is possibly the heaviest they ever got and truly knocked me flat upon first listen. But lots of bands can sound heavy, it's a fantastic song that hits harder because of the writing.

OK, that's five. Now I need another seven. Upon a little extra listening I arrived at three that seemed obvious enough to me that they should have been circled.

Ricochet - Sandstorm! may be the song that set the tone for the Madeira, but Ricochet is probably the most complete statement of who they are. Truly hair-raising intro lands on enchanting guitar lines that are a primo example of why a lot of surf fans know who Ivan Pongracic is.

The Saracen - While scrutinizing these songs I tried to ask myself "is this doing something different or is this just another good Madeira song that sounds like a bunch of others?". The Saracen sounds a lot like Ricochet. But it's too good to leave off.

Ancient Winds - I mean without even listening to it, it is the title track of an album and even has a music video. So no duh it's gotta be on the greatest hits. But it also does exactly what it says it will: it sounds light, propulsive, magical and adventurous. A real tone-setter for that record.

So now we're at eight, need four more. These are going to be tough. There's also some strategic calls to make: my list is heavy on Sandstorm and Ancient Winds tracks. Should I force some balance between their albums or go with my favorites? Also, I willfully ignored the live albums upon listening but surely those track lists would hint at the crowd-pleasers, if not their favorites. But where's the fun in that? OK, here's what I came up with, even if it doesn't feel like the right answer. But it wouldn't be very fun if I wrote this whole article just to tell you that I nailed it anyway.

Cordoba - Uh oh. All I could find on youtube is an old live clip from 2009. That doesn't bode well for my predictions. And maybe this doesn't do anything that Ricochet and Sandstorm don't cover, but it still feels pretty energizing upon listening to it, as if that's even needed right after Sandstorm!

Burning Mirage - Arresting intro, great imagery from song title alone, furious pace, crashing ending. I knew I was probably pushing it by choosing four from Sandstorm but going with my heart, not my brains.

Sahar - Rhythm guitar is about as urgent as it gets while lead guitar heads into the exotic. And then there's the bridge into the second half with an instrumentation change. One of their most progressive and ambitious, a great demonstration of their range.

The Argonaut - Ivan Pongracic is an overt Atlantics fan, and no retrospective of their work would be complete without that being somewhat apparent. I think this is a great example of them paying homage without losing their own identity. I should also note this leaves Tribal Fires as the odd one out with two tracks since I gave Sandstorm four. It probably is my least favorite of the four, but hardly a weak album.

The actual tracklist of Archipelago

I'm going to bold the tracks shared by my list and theirs.

  1. The Saracen
  2. Journey to the Center of the Surf
  3. Witch Doctor
  4. Ancient Winds
  5. Burning Mirage
  6. Into the Deep
  7. Tribal Fury
  8. Undercurrents
  9. Caravela
  10. Cities of Gold
  11. Rolling Thunder
  12. Sandstorm

My tracks that didn't make it

If I may express myself with a representative of dashed expectations from my youth:

Sim City guy mad about no ricochet

I'm bummed that "Ricochet" is not on there, maybe also "The Ritual", but the only two that would have really crushed me are if they omitted "Sandstorm" and "Caravela". I'd like to note that Ricochet did make it onto their setlist for Center of the Surf. "The Ritual" did not, though I think it could be a bit of a snoozer live, versus in its album context.

The ones I missed

Journey to the Center of the Surf - This was a bonehead omission on my part considering its statement title, the fact that it opened Ancient Winds and is basically the name of a live album. I'm totally fine with it on here, I think I passed over it because I just think of its intensity as eclipsed by "Caravela".

Witch Doctor - If I had included another one from Tribal Fires it would have been this. Loud, furious, but mysterious.

Into the Deep - Ooh a quieter one! I feel like this one has a similar energy as "The Ritual" so while I would have kept my choice between the two, I do think it's one or the other.

Tribal Fury - Some scorching fast guitarwork from Ivan on this opener from Tribal Fires. It made my post-it but I think it's a little too much power, not enough grace compared to some others.

Rolling Thunder - This is a solid track (just about everything they did was) but it didn't make my post-it and I think I stand by that -- I think Sahar achieves similar stuff better.

So there you go. This was fun for me, sifting through The Madeira and picking out my favorites and then seeing what theirs are, and I have a hunch they'll get a kick out of it too. If you made it this far, I guess you did too!

Archipelago is out on House of Tabu records and notably this is the only way to hear a lot of these tracks on vinyl (I believe Ancient Winds is the only one that got pressed to wax). . The rest of their discography is available from Double Crown.


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