Japan’s folk/rock/fusion outfit Rock of Asia recently released their electrifying new album, Asian Anthology, a 14-track collection of superb songs.
Fronted by Nikki Matsumoto, who spent 15 years in LA playing and writing rock music, Rock of Asia formed in 2010, followed by touring the U.S. in the same year, and then touring the Middle East in 2012 and 2019.
Born in Tokyo, Nikki put together his first band at the age of 14. Four years later, he moved to SoCal, where he played in Los Angeles bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Nikki composes, writes lyrics, sings, produces, and plays guitar, biwa, bass, and keyboards.
Not just a musician, Nikki is also an activist and volunteer, founding the Others 1st Initiative and directs the Japan Palestine Friendship Association. After the Tsunami of 2011, he spent months in Iwate providing help to victims.
His solo CD, Palestine On My Mind, released in 2014, was dedicated to the people of Palestine. Nikki believes people are the same everywhere throughout the world, and maintains music cuts across boundaries and brings people together.
Along with Nikki, musicians on the album include Yasuhisa Murase (acoustic guitar), Kizen Ohyama (shakuhachi), Kay Suzuki (violin), and Kouzan Oyama (shamisen).
The album begins with “Lai Dhaga,” opening on low-slung syncopated rhythmic percussion topped by coruscating colors of traditional savors. Rasping, evocative vocals, and radiant harmonies give the lyrics a mystical suffusion.
“La La La Lal Dhaga / Breeding the children of god / He, only the one that is brighter than stars.”
Speaking subjectively, highlights on the album include “BELIEF,” which for some reason reminds of War, flavored with hints of jazz and Latin rock flowing through it. A luscious flute fills the tune with scintillating hues.
“MIKOTO” travels on exotic layers of prog-rock textures merged with tangs of folk music. Whereas the guitar intro to “Kojo No Tsuki” recalls the gossamer intro to Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity.” Gliding on drifting soft colors, the tune mirrors melancholic flavors.
“The Parallel” rolls out on dynamic hues, riding a potent rhythm as surging colors intertwine overhead, forming a scrumptiously layered melody. “The Unsaid” opens on dirty, almost punk-laced guitars, and then transitions into an alt-rock tune embellished by a luminous flute and intense vocals.
“Hiya hahaha hohoho / I am black and white as night and day / Hiya hahaha hohoho / I am high and low as ocean waves.”
The final track, “The Daughter” ripples with tender tones, at once compassionate and tender. Nikki’s passion-laced voice imbues the lyrics with the ache and loneliness of yearning for his lover.
Wholly original and superior, Asian Anthology fuses captivating textures of folk-rock, jazz, and traces of pop into complex washes of music.