The Argonauts are a four-piece underground supergroup of sorts, surfing out of Japan with this high octane album of instrumental jams that shows all the players, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards to be in excellent form. The four members, DB, 3ch, Risa Takeda (this name rings a bell) and Marcos Fernandes, have all played and collaborated in the Japanese underground, but this is their break for something a little more populist.
The album contains nine songs and at a little under forty-five minutes, each track is given plenty of opportunity to stretch its legs and gather some momentum. The cover containing a lovely stylised image of a canoe amidst huge waves against a backdrop of Mount Fuji led me to assume that we were looking at some sort of surf rock instrumental album with a bit of modernism a la Man or Astroman, but apart from the first track — which does go down the surf rock route, the guitar high and yearning, a Cramps-like backbeat and low, sinister bass — the rest of the album covers a myriad of bases and in the sort of excellent way that perhaps only the Japanese can.There are two tracks that take a reggae direction, but in very different ways; “The Essence” is a real skanker, the bass nice and beaty, while the guitar just chops the rhythm out allowing the fuzzy keyboards to meander at will across the track. It looks back, but some of the atmospherics scattered over the top bring an air of the now into the mix. “Argo Dub”, however chooses the echoing route that the title suggests. This track is slower but more eerie, drilling FX clatter in the background, the reggae guitar again holds the rhythm but allows for more space as this time 3ch the bassist is given opportunity to test his chops and some of his bass runs are delicious. For a few tracks, we look back to the ’60s and ’70s for inspiration, but it is only a glimpse; the melancholy phased guitar intro and Hammond sounds of “Let’s Dance Just Like We Did” glide into a real swinging groove that peeks at Carnaby Street and allows the body to keep on moving while the modern sounds of the guitar moving at different speeds drags the track into the future. The funk bass of “Ain’t Nothing New” also means that this album can be for dancers as well, as though that would choose to soak up the musical ideas. There is mention made on the press release of post-rock, but I am disinclined to agree: this is instrumental music for those that like to alternate between dancing and listening.
The incredible energy of “Burning Poppies” brings to mind a fairground’s urgency, that slightly disorientating sense of colour and movement being brought by the bass which is joyful in the way that it dances up and down the frets, the guitar is overdriven and frantic; and miraculously, with the Hammond and drums in the mix, there is a point in the songs where there is silence every six beats. The band is so in tune that those brief moments are almost deafening. There are one or two tracks that slow the overall pace of the album down, the yearning of “Jack And The Beanstalk”, with its mournful fuzz guitar waterfalls and hopeless rhythm move into the final track “One For The Road”. This is an opportunity for all the band to throw their lot into the mix: soul piano, spiky fuzz guitar, even the drums step into the limelight and become a little agitated.Overall, this album is a winner. The tone of the bass and the sheer audacity of some of the runs, the myriad tones and the emotion of the guitar playing, the hundreds of faces of the keyboards and the rock-solid backdrop of the drums allow the band to tackle any style with conviction and it works because the band are so in tune and also seem to be having so much fun. I will always give instrumental music a go because the lack of vocals allow the songs to expand or contract at the whim of any band member, rather than following the vocal line and I love that sort of freedom, be it Mogwai, Tortoise, Jimmy Smith, Dick Dale, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Cluster or whoever. The Argonauts deserve to be in amongst these.