‘Epic’ has unfortunately joined the ubiquitous throng of overused words in our everyday language to the point that we hardly notice it is there any more. Frequently, humorously – and wrongly – used to describe everything commonplace from hangovers, car insurance to ‘fails’, it has become nothing more than a trendy, vacuous catchphrase empty of all meaning and significance.
With the release of Ship, the fourth studio album from the outrageously talented Yuka and Chronoship, the time has come to reclaim and restore the term to where it rightfully belongs. Ship represents the return of the epic. This is a work of majestic vision, a glorious triumph of expansive imagination married with technical virtuosity and gorgeous playing. It is, to my mind at least, their best to date and marks an impressive step forward in the band’s evolution.
Not that this should come as a surprise. Yuka Funakoshi always takes a satisfying holistic approach in the way albums are meticulously conceived and written. Their previous album, The 3rd Planetary Chronicles (2015) is a carefully crafted historical, philosophical and musical ode to the planet on which we live. It is a survey of the significant developments in earth’s evolution, a sweeping vision covering not just the formation of the planets but the emergence of earth, key steps in human history (Galileo, steam, The Industrial Revolution, the birth of radio) and also anticipates aspects of our future as well.
Ship takes this grand, epic sweep and goes further. The album opens with the unmistakable voice of Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) singing the repeated refrain “Where do we come from? / Where are we going?” Don’t be fooled. This isn’t simply a philosophical musing which runs in various forms throughout the entire album. It is also the opening gambit in what turns out to be a loving reimagining of the ancient Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts in their heroic quest to find the Golden Fleece.
The opening seven tracks form an extended ‘suite’ of ‘Argo’ themed songs and immediately gives a clue to the ship oriented theme captured in the album’s title. I make no apologies for calling this suite epic. Intense, smouldering keyboard driven soundscapes create an imposing and profound sense of scale. The Ship Argos (Track 2) drips with heavy atmospheric guitar riffing, infused with smoky keyboard textures which in turn are supplanted by choral echoes before returning to the main theme, creating a spacious, lofty sense of mission and destiny.
Landing (Track 3) is layered with the most beautiful, growling Hammond-esque keys; dominated by arduous, strenuous, thumping drums above which a pained guitar adds an insistent and urgent voice. Listen for the menacing bass, hammering out an incessant rhythm. Listen also for the way it carries across tracks. A Dragon That Never Sleeps (Track 5) opens with the most delicious undulating and complex bass line off which some serious keyboards riff and a fantastic bluesy guitar lets loose, almost improvised in style. A fabulous bass solo segues to a foot stomping grandiose finale with thrash cymbal, majestic synths and a restive sense of denouement.
Even with the Argo suite complete, the ship theme continues across the remaining tracks despite a noticeable difference in the change of pace and atmosphere. The Airship of Jean Giraud (Track 8) is an impressively splendid expression of precise musicianship which shows just how tightly interactive the band are with each other. The tranquil interludes with flute accompaniment and laid back soulful guitar are delightful. Old Ship on the Grass (Track 10) is a change of pace again with a playful nod to the old sea shanty style songs, a light melody with a bouncy rhythm sung by the ship’s crew as they worked.
True epics take time to absorb; repeated telling allows the complexity and details to gradually sink in. Ship is no different. It doesn’t come easy and you won’t be putting it on for a quick listen. As a holistic experience it demands and requires repeated, sustained, focused attention. When the penny finally drops, the reward is an exquisite piece of supremely gifted musical storytelling born of a comprehensive vision and prodigious instrumental talent. Fantastic.
1. ARGO – Tears of the Figurehead
2. ARGO – The Ship Argos
3. ARGO – Landing
4. ARGO – Golden Fleece
5. ARGO – A Dragon That Never Sleeps
6. ARGO – Islands in the Stream
7. ARGO – Return
8. The Air Ship of Jean Giraud
9. Visible Light
10. Old Ship on the Grass
11. Did You Find a Star?
Yuka Funakoshi – Vocals, Keyboard, Piano
Takashi Miyazawa – Guitar
Shun Taguchi – Bass
Ikko Tanaka – Drums
Hiroyuki Izuda – Vocals
Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) – Vocals (1,11)
King Records KICS-3687 (Japan), Cherry Red Records (World)
April 2018 (Japan), May 2018 (World)