Rovo’s Sweet Tonic: Japanese Sextet is Amazing

It’s a rare occurrence to find an album that within the first minute of the first song you know what you’re listening to is nothing short of amazing. It would be akin to finding the stereo gods had blessed your equipment with some divine gift for which there is no rational explanation.

To be truthful, I can’t remember such a thing ever happening to me before, that is until yesterday. I was going through a box of CDs that someone had given me. I wasn’t even looking at titles really, just putting them in the rotation, when I heard the beginning of what I later found out was “Sukhna” by Rovo off their two disc set called Tonic 2001.

I stopped whatever it was I had been doing and just listened, mesmerized, for the next eleven minutes-the entire length of the first song. I can’t really explain what it is I heard, but I knew instantly that it was the most inventive instrumental work I’ve heard. This was something genuinely different and fresh. I knew that music had changed for me forever and I was happy with the results.

Rovo is a Japanese sextet featuring members of other Japanese underground outfits. Playing what they’ve dubbed “man-driven trance,” guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto (Boredoms), violinist Yuji Katsui (Demi Semi Quaver, Bondage Fruit), and synthesizer/effects technician Tatsuki Masuko (Dub Squad) started Rovo in Tokyo in 1996.

Imago
, released in 1999, was their first full album although several shorter releases preceded it. And Imago is indeed good (I found it in the box too)-layers upon layers of sounds all mingling together to create a lush musical parfait. You’ll hear flutes and clarinets paired with tribal percussion over the distinct background of a synthesizer with hard-hitting breakbeats and strings coming in to join the party. I really don’t know how to describe it, but chaotic symmetry comes to mind. I know this-everyone should hear this band.

Tonic 2001 is a live set containing the highlights of their two nights at the musical club Tonic in New York City. All I can say is I wish I could have been at those shows. The level of intensity captured on these two albums is astounding. The band has a great sense of progression-they can bring their songs to a high cataclysmic point and just when you wonder how much further they can go, they drop the levels down a hair.

The descent is slow and comes in waves, like the aftermath of a good orgasm. A great example of this is the first two songs on disc one-“Sukhna” and “Guiding Star.” The big crescendo starts to build its strength in earnest somewhere around minute seven of “Sukhna” and the end of the high mark’s descent isn’t found until minute five of “Guiding Star.”

It’s this fusion, the give and take between levels amongst every single song, which makes their music so fascinating. Another reviewer has called their music “spontaneous, energizing, and beautiful,” but words just can’t accurately capture what this band accomplishes.

The band’s been dubbed as abstract, space rock, experimental, or techno-but their music doesn’t truly fit any of these labels either. All I can say is go get yourself some Rovo and forget what you think you know about good music.

Rovo
Imago
2001 Incidental Music, 1999 Sony Music Japan

Rovo
Tonic 2001
2002 TZADIK.
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