About a year ago, when we were in the early days of getting this magazine up and running, we had the pleasure of speaking to founder member of Rock of Asia, Nikki Matsumoto (link to the feature is at the end of this review). Nikki Matsumoto played rock music professionally in the States for 15 years, returned to Japan, and founded Rock of Asia, who play a distinct blend of Western instruments like the guitar and violin with Eastern instruments like the koto, shamisen, sho, and erhu.
Rock of Asia is:
Nikki Matrumoto (Vocals, Biwa, Sanshin, Guitars, Bass, Programming and Percussion)
Yasusisa Murase (Acoustic Guitar)
Yuki Ishii (Violin)
Kizen Ohyama (Shakuhachi) – this is a bamboo style of flute.
So wearing my world music hat, I settled back to give the album a listen. I’m reviewing it while sitting in a large hotel lounge (trusty pair of headphones plugged in and volume up) while I wait for my son. There is a nice cup of tea to my side and a less satisfying “shortbread” selection that the hotel overcharged me on! Nevertheless, I am ready for the new album and will proceed with the review!
“Tami” opens us up with an Arabic feel to the instrumentalization before the very effective melody of the Shakuhachi takes over. The song opens the album in an upbeat manner, evocative of mediaeval troubadours. The lyrics for this album are in English, and the vocal harmonies give the song a lift and an ethereal feeling. The band sings that “no-one wants to see their heroes weak,” and the track looks to strength and unity.
“Four Legged Requiem” follows up with a stronger bass/drum sound. This one has a strong storytelling element to it, and the closing, with this lovely lilting violin sound, is a real pleasure.
“Sunbright” – has a more distinctively folk sound, almost a country influenced track. It is driven by a simple guitar picking, stripped down sound, as the vocals sing, “You’re my Pride and Joy.” It is placed well in the run through of the album, and it worked for me.
“Capital in Your Vein” is a faster, uptempo track. Nikki is in fine voice here, the track suits his vocal style, which is a mix of oriental and Inca sounds accompanied by the Shakuhachi and violin. It has a light feel, with the Shakuhachi flying high like a bird.
“Eastern Eyes” is a ballad that switches into this power drum and violin combo that delivers a distinctive vibe. It has a fighting back motif, “here to catch you when you fail,” and it creates some vocal harmonies later in the track that are really well worked and reminded me of the wind of change.
“El Condor Pasa” is a Simon and Garfunkel cover that fits the mood of this album very well. It slots into the natural touches, the dynamics of the elements and nature that are within the sound and concepts of the album.
“Keep Yourself Alive,” made me wonder if I was in for a cover of the Queen number here, looking at the title. This was not the case. Rather, it is a jaunty piece, stepping out with a joy for life and music. The instrumentalization is infectious, and the song is about making the most of life and the choices we have.
“Stranger in the Homeland” was my favourite on the album. The music gives off a spectral feeling, and the violin is crying in the background. The vocals match closely and provide a lamenting feeling that suits the voice of Nikki Matrumoto. The track crosses musical cultures and works really well, I would also say it is the song with the broadest appeal on the album.
“Tomorrow” returns to the wistful sound of the Shakuhachi carrying us over the mountains and clouds. It closes the album in style and shows again the strong musicianship within the group.
Standout tracks: “Stranger in the Homeland,” “Tami,” and “Sunbright.”
As an overview, the album has a lot to offer, as the musicianship of all involved is first rate. It introduces a real mix of instruments that I rarely get to listen to and fuses the west with the east in a seamless manner. The songs change direction and take you on an uplifting journey with them.
The album is available now to download on all available platforms, and a link to download the album is here.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: https://www.rockofasia.com/
“Rock of Asia” (March 2011)
“Virtual Colony” (November 2013)
“The Ancient” (November 2019)
“Asian Anthology” (April 2021) https://rockofasia.bandcamp.com/album/asian-anthology
“TAMI” (May 2023) https://rockofasia.bandcamp.com/album/tami
By Lorraine Foley
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