Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Creation Myths" review by Noel at Surf Guitar 101

Thanks to my good friend Noel over at Surf Guitar 101 for the wonderful in depth review.

"As I started listening to the first track on “Creation Myths”, the debut CD by MOONBASE, I immediately reached out to Chad Shivers with some questions about what I was hearing. I’d previously heard MOONBASE play live at the 2014 Instro Summit in Durham, NC, in May of 2014, where they stunned the audience with their tight, driven performance of this extraordinary music. The conversation is included after the review.

What follows are my own thoughts, impressions and reactions to the songs on the album.

Creation Myths:
Well, I have a degree in Anthropology, so creation stories from around the world are a fondly remembered part of my literary and academic past. A culture’s creation stories reveal much about what is valued and feared by a people. They are a like a window into a different culture. The theme of creation myths, and my appreciation of them, informs my interpretation of this music. And because of that, I bring memories of many culture’s creation stories to my listening experience. So I was immediately drawn to the concept for this album, the same as I was drawn to The Madeira’s transcendent and mysterious “Tribal Fires”. Though these two albums sound and feel quite different, they share something else I’ll discuss later.

Smoke is one of the results of fire, which is usually considered a destructive force. But fire is also part of the process of creation. Smoke conceals what is inside and behind it, but smoke also announces the fire that creates it. Belief in the mystical and even spiritual properties of smoke are as old as humanity, and smoke is even today used in many spiritual rituals the world over. Creativity is a fire than burns within the artist, never quenched while the artist lives within the person. Fitting, then, that “Smoke” is the first song.

From the first, “Smoke” signals something extraordinary is happening. The song smokes, and so does the album it announces. “Smoke” reveals an album full of creative, thoughtful and emotion-provoking music.

A segue is a transition from one thing to another, from origin in fire to the creation that results. Almost a lullaby, “Segue” is the most romantic song on the album. The vocal “Oo-oo” is well sung by Chad Shivers. The mood is completely different from “Smoke”, and is sentimental and peaceful, though there’s tension present hinting at something unknown that will come. “Segue” is also the most traditionally impressionist. Cleverly arranged, unless looking at the track indicator, it’s nearly impossible to detect the beginning of the next song, the segue is so subtle. Nicely done!

Cherry Blossom
… begins where “Segue” leaves off. Ultimately it’s not a tranquil song, in spite of sharing its’ name with those lovely and delicate blooms. The song begins where “Segue” leaves off, calm and serene, but like a harbinger of something… else… to come. I listen and see a lovely spring day, warm – not hot, a clear sky, a gentle breeze rustling the trees. You know the kind of day, but also that something is in the air. Then the breeze stops and dark clouds appear in the sky. A storm is coming, and it does, as soon as “Cherry Blossom” ends.

This song blows the blossoms off the cherry trees. The storm comes up suddenly, and builds in intensity. Hard wind-driven rain blows through the music. There is thunder and lightning, but no shelter, not that you want any. The scene is too spectacular. So you stand in the storm, leaning in, facing the brunt of it. It builds and builds, drenching the listener with its intensity. Then, suddenly, it passes and there is the very familiar calm, quiet after-storm serenity. “Stormfield” drifts off with a lovely piece of music that in sound and feel recalls “Segue”. So you know change is coming, again. This is a wonderful song!

The only cover on this record, the original is by The John Barry Seven and written by the famous Vic Flick. MOONBASE have completely reimagined the song and made it a sweeping saga. Mr. Flick gave them a terrific canvas to start with, and the song is now far grander than the original. It feels operatic, at times Middle-Eastern, at times South-Western, and at other times classic American blues-rock. This Zapata is far from the legendary Mexican revolutionary. “Zapata” is a feast for the ears. Lean back, close your eyes, and go with it.

Above Us Only Sky
… is a musical mystical journey through place, time and space. Makes me think of planet surfing, riding waves of gravity instead of water. Imagine a fast one-person space craft able to ride the gravitational waves of the solar system between planets in the time it takes to play the song. Leave Earth as the song begins and swoop by the moon for a push toward the inner planets and the Sun, which will give your board all the energy it needs to reach Mars and the outer planets. Catch the second biggest wave in the whole ride and surf Jupiter as long as you can until it pushes you on to Saturn where you dip you hand in its rings. What a rush!
The Serpent
Snakes are entirely absent from few places on earth, but everywhere else serpents play an important role in the origin or other spiritual stories of most cultures. Serpents most often represent evil or death, or bring them, or temp people to commit them. And in those cultures, priests often prove their power over life and death by demonstrating their mastery over serpents. This serpent is a killer of a song.

New Wounds
Better run. Something is chasing, coming fast from behind and hiding may not be an option. The pursuit is relentless, the pursuer tireless. And it’s getting closer. Can’t see it. Can only hear and feel it. Gotta keep going, gotta stay ahead, can’t stop, can’t rest. It isn’t stopping. It isn’t resting. It just keeps coming. Don’t turn around to look; might trip on something and then it’ll catch you. Too late. This is fun!

Restful compared to most of the previous songs, “Bluejay” nonetheless isn’t really slow or boring. It is every bit as musically complex and evocative as anything on the album. “Bluejay” is in many ways a tone-poem, and within are pauses of deeper tranquility, as if something very active is taking a siesta.

Brief, like “Segue” “(Walking)” also implies something is about to change. Starting slowly, it builds tension just before fading out, as if the sojourner suddenly looks up to discover a destination of unknown nature has been reached that maybe had been best avoided. The destination?

Caves of Steel
… are enclosed metal boxes, or cages. Or spaceships, or artificial worlds. But the implication is they are without sunlight, not being open to a sunlit sky. Worlds without sunlight would have to be desperate inescapable places, unless it was all that was ever known, or because something better was promised. In my imaginary journey, I see a spaceship traveling to a new world full of life and promise, to come out of the darkness into the light of day. That’s how I see the ending of the song. Coming out of the darkness of the steel cage into the light of a new day on a new world. It’s my imagination, after all.

I’ve long loved romantic and impressionist symphonic music, music written to create emotional impressions, spontaneous responses which lead the listener to experiences, imagery and thoughts unconstrained by words and visual cues, guided only by a few titles and each listener’s own life. Close your eyes and let your imagination lead you wherever the music may. Imagine then Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as a work of music instead of a poem. No words to tell the allegory, only music to invoke, or provoke, the imagination of the reader to see and feel the tale. “Creation Myths” has this ability to let each listener create an imaginary story for each song, based only on the sound and feel of the music, guided only by the title, full of whatever thoughts and imagery the music creates. “Creation Myths” is a contemporary classical work of impressionist art in the form of instrumental rock music.

I’ve wondered if anyone would approach surf music the way George Gershwin approached jazz. Gershwin believed he could write a jazz symphony based on his experiences in Paris, and so he wrote “An American in Paris” which debuted in New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 1928. Very romantic, I immediately thought “Tribal Fires” by The Madeira would make a great ballet score along the lines of Stravinsky’s “Firebird”, and I have the same feeling about “Creation Myths” and for the same reasons. The music stands on its’ own as brilliant, thoughtful and provocative, and the individual songs convey impressions that beg be choreographed.

The music on “Creation Myths” sounds like an amalgam of many musical influences. I hear elements of surf, classic rock, southern rock, prog rock, metal, blues, world music and jazz. These are complex songs that transcend those genres by incorporating elements of all of them. And the result is definitely greater than the sum of the parts.

MOONBASE have found space in the surf music lexicon to create something unique. That is worthy of notice, and so is the music. Creation Myths” by MOONBASE is a musical journey through time and ideas that will be stimulating emotions, images and thoughts in listeners for a long time. Who knows what that will create?

One last comment. These are my impressions, my visions if you will, created by my imagination stimulated by the music on this album. May you listen with an open mind and let this amazing music create your own stories.

MOONBASE are George Asimakos – Guitar, Eric Balint – Bass, Sonny Hardng – Drums, and Chad Shivers – Guitar.

Engineered and mixed by Jesse Wallace, Jr.
Mastered by Jerod McBrayer at McBrayer Mastering
Art by Rich M. Stevens
Layout by Jamie Galatas

Creation Myths is available from Bandcamp at http://moonbasemusic.bandcamp.com/album/creation-myths

and from ReverbNation at http://www.reverbnation.com/moonbase

MOONBASE are on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/moonbasemusic
Chad Shivers is also on Surf Guitar 101 as ChadShivers http://surfguitar101.com/profile/view/ChadShivers/

A Brief Conversation with Chad Shivers about “Creation Myths”

The album title is "Creation Myths". Is this just a title, does it refer to being Moonbase's first record, or do the song titles reference various creation myths?

"Creation Myths" is in fact a partial reference to this being our first record. I also tend to do a lot of research for song/album titles and creation myths were a subject in which I was deeply interested. The only song title which ties in with the name is "The Serpent" which is a reference to Genesis in the Old Testament. Many of the other titles are literary ("Stormfield" comes from Twain, "Caves of Steel" from Asimov), naturalism ("Smoke", "Above Us Only Sky" which is a line from Lennon's "Imagine"), and the two fingerpicking songs were written for my family, "Cherry Blossom" for my wife as her Roller Derby name was Cherry Blox'em and Bluejay for my son J.

Any other tidbits to help me write a thorough review, such as gear, recording approach, etc? Stuff like was it tracked or live? Overdubbed, etc.

Here's a list of the gear we used:
George Asimakos: 1978 Aria Pro II 335 copy, 1981 Greco Super Real with Gibson t-top and Stephens Design vintage lab II pickups, 1970 Guild archtop, Hohner Marine Band deluxe harp, Stiff Amplification Repeat Offender, Dunlop Aquapuss, 1967 Fender Super Reverb.
Chad Shivers: Squier CV 50's strat, Xotic EP boost, Stiff Amplification Repeat Offender, 1977/78 Deluxe Reverb w/ WGS g12cs speaker, 1976 Princeton Reverb w/ WGS g10cs speaker, Tacoma Chief acoustic.
Eric Balint: Fender Marcus Miller Jazz bass, 1970/71 Fender Bassman, Beaver Bottoms 1966 tone ring cab w/ Jensen Neo 15-150.
Sonny Harding: Pacific drums, Tama snare, cymbals from Paiste, Zildjan, and Sabian.

I generally approach recording projects with a more is more approach with a bunch of extras but for this record my aim was to keep it simple. For drums we used a kick (AKG d112), snare (Sennheiser 421), 1 overhead (AKG 414), and a room mic. Guitars we mainly used the 421 as a close mic plus a room, and bass we used a close mic and direct. We did add a few extra things on the record: I sang on "Segue", played acoustic on "Cherry Blossom" and "Bluejay", and played organ on "Stormfield". George played harmonica and slide guitar on "Above Us Only Sky" and "Caves of Steel". Eric played bells on "Above Us Only Sky" and percussion on "The Serpent".

We did a lot of pre-production for the album. I took live/practice recordings and got an average tempo. From there I created a click track and the strings recorded scratch tracks. Sonny practiced with those for several weeks and then we each tracked our parts separate with drums first as the foundation. Jay Wallace from The Mystery Men? engineered and mixed the record and I wanted it to sound natural and open.

Are you lead guitar on all songs?

George handled most leads although I did a few. George is left speaker and I am right.
Thanks Noel, let me know if you need any more info.

Thank you, Chad Shivers, for sharing the creative process behind MOONBASE’s extraordinary debut album."

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