Ever since hearing Deep Purple's Made In Japan, and the cheering of the audience there, I have known that the Japanese do have a fondness of anything that has to do with rock music. Many (hard) rock and metal bands I know have been successful in Japan, even after they were no longer 'hot' in Europe and North America. The other way round, much less Japanese acts seem to become known in the west - which is a shame really. I've heard some successful rock and metal acts in the 80s and 90s, and then it was quiet for a while, although bands like Ars Nova of course pop up every once in a while. Now, after hearing their album Dino Rocket Oxygen, I hope this band Yuka & Chronoship becomes more well known as well. At the time of writing, the album is already 2 years old, and a new album (the band's 3rd) is expected to be released later this year. So, who knows...
Yuka & Chronoship is a quartet built around keyboardist and vocalist Yuka Funakoshi. She is accompanied on this album by Shun Taguchi on bass, Takashi Miyazawa on guitar and Ikko Tanaka on drums. Accompanied is perhaps not the right word, because each of these musicians get their play on this album, supported by the other three b and members. And that despite the fact that Yuka is not only the name giver of the band, but also the main composer.
The album consists of three suites, each covering between 15 and 25 minutes. First of these is the Dinosaurs s uite, which starts with a heartbeat and a synthesizer, soon accompanied by a fast melodic guitar lead. This opening track, Which Came First, The Dinosaur Or The Egg? quickly moves into Dance With Dinosaurs, which is a jazz rock piece that really gives spaces for all four musicians. The keyboards and guitar perform the unisono opening, which is followed by a danceable rhythm pattern laid down by drums and bass. After this, the track changes directions multiple times, with keyboard leads, guitar parts and even a short bass interlude - returning every once in a while to that same jazzy theme again. Near the end, guitarist Miyazawa manages to sound like a roaring dinosaur for a second. After that, things quiet down in Ruler Of The Earth, which is a beautiful piano and keyboard piece, allowing band leader Yuka to show what she is capable of.
Then we are brought to a more modern era, perhaps even a science fiction future, in the R Is For Rocket suite, a musical painting consisting of five parts. Cutting Gravity brings us drums and bass, followed by (electric) piano and a heavy guitar riff - cutting gravity clearly has something to do with launching a rocket. As drums and bass keep pounding, the guitar manages to give a feel of increasing speed, until everything slows down and we are apparently in space. At the end, a nice build up takes place. With the drums starting, one after another the bass, guitar and keyboards join in to build the final crescendo.
Surprisingly, the follow up Skygazer almost sounds like the keyboard tune of a TV series, over a drum rhythm that invites clapping. Half way, the keyboards get a slight Vangelis ring to them, and near the end the keyboard plays a children's song underneath a guitar lead. Then the music stops, as An Arrow Of Glittering Music starts with background sounds of doors, a bad speaker, a guitar being tuned. A short guitar tune starts that sounds like a home recording and gradually goes into something cleaner. A helicopter sound then introduces the Blue Astronaut Helicopter. Starting as a electronic dance tune, with a heavy rhythm laid down by bass and drums, this developers into something that reminds me of the intro tune of 80s TV series Blue Thunder (about a helicopter...). Finally, Beyond The Fence takes care of a fitting end to this suite, with rolling drums, a piano and Yuka singing a (wordless?) song.
The third suite, Oxygen, is my favourite of the three. With the three parts being titled O, O2 and O3, I immediately think of oxygen atoms, oxygen that we breathe and ozone. I have no clue if that was t he intention, but once again, based on this I can hear a musical painting here. O is 'chemical' in sound, starting with drums and percussion that mimic a dripping sound, together with a percussively played synthesizer. A fiery guitar solo, accompanied by whirling keyboards, sets the oxygen on fire briefly, before the bubbling returns. Later the track gets heavier, with a grand finale for the keyboards. O2 sounds more lively, perhaps because of the breathable oxygen. A piano, accompanied by wind sounds prece des another heavier piece, which starts with an organ followed by heavy guitar playing and Yuka singing again. Here, for the first time on the album the music becomes slightly bombastic before returning to the piano theme of the intro.
Finally, O3, starts with a dripping percussion sound again, but quickly drum, bass and then guitar come rolling in full force, with an interesting piano chord pattern underneath. The piano remains when the rest stops, and we hear Yuka singing in a way that is very similar to Kate Bush. After repeating this pattern in a slightly different way (well executed!) a single dinosaur heartbeat ends the album...
There's not a lot else to say about this largely instrumental album. I' ve learned over time that when I start describing the music of an album in the form of a story, the music really grabbed me. That's what happened here as well. This is a band of highly skilled musicians who, unlike some of their colleagues, manage to put themselves in service of the music rather than focusing on a show of their technical skills. Much appreciated, and highly recommended for those who love keyboard driven instrumentals with an occasional side step into jazz rock.
**** Angelo Hulshout (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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