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Professor's band releases new surf-rock album

He teaches Austrian economics by day and plays surf guitar by night. He is Ivan Pongracic, associate professor of economics, and lead guitarist for The Madeira.

The Madeira, a surf rock quartet, released their first album this month. Sandstorm is a 13 track tour of the surf genre, and a good one at that. Surf rock can be difficult to listen to in large quantities, especially for listeners accustomed to pop hooks and…vocals…but Pongracic’s latest offering is a good surf album.

Coincidentally, Pongracic’s former surf band, the Space Cossacks, also released a CD this month, Never Mind the Bolsheviks, a best-of compilation. Although the compilation showcases a popular band within the surf genre, the Madeira disc will be more satisfying to listeners unfamiliar with surf.

As if a sign of calmer maturity, Sandstorm begins with a slow, echoing, 54 second guitar strum warm-up by Pongracic. The opening moments of track two, “Sandstorm!” are also confident, but launch the Madeira into a full sounding, up-tempo surf number. The track also introduces an exotic desert theme.

Although the Madeira does not have the thump and bump of The Stingrays or The Ventures, or the raw intensity and distortion of Dick Dale, the band displays surf rock roots. The Madeira is more polished than the original surf rockers, which lends to prettier sound quality but a lesser degree of helter skelter, bare bones energy. The strongest part of Sandstorm is the diversity of songwriting.

As lead songwriter, Pongracic samples from many areas of surf.

Track four, “El Caliph” contains a grittier rhythm guitar undercurrent with aggressive breakdowns reminiscent of grunge—maybe even Nirvana. The tom toms bump a bit and the mid-song strip down to bass and drums, followed by discordant guitar screeches, makes “El Caliph” a top song on the album.

“Burning Mirage,” shows a guitar-only introduction then kicks with a sinister melody fit for a TV villain’s theme music. A bit epic, even the final echoing note recalls the theme music of old time-y detective shows.

Track six, “Rogue Wave,” is my pick as top song on the disc, most likely because it recalls other bands I enjoy. Pongracic’s solos on the track are a bit more distorted, a la the Pixies, and the primary rhythm drives the song in a manner reminiscent of the Chills. The track ends with old-fashioned surf distortion, as though a guitar has been destroyed. Fitting indeed.

Pongracic also gives nod to The Doors’ “Love Her Madly,” with his opening strums on “The Secret Route.” The track, along with “Crescent Moon,” lays acoustic strumming over echoing solos.

Although a few tracks were average, including “Desert Drums,” which had one solid, and one so-so drum solo, the disc pleases. “The Oasis,” ends the album with a surprisingly blues-based creep along which evokes a bit of the lonesome in all of us.

Recommending a surf album to non-surf fans is difficult, but I give Sandstorm the nod. The disc is sufficiently diverse and interesting, and although I would prefer a rougher form of distortion, The Madeira occasionally harkens to the surf of years gone by with moments of aggression.

The college bookstore will be selling both of Pongracic’s discs. The Space Cossacks’ catalog is available from

By Tony Gonzalez
Copyright © 2006, The Hillsdale Collegian

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