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Now Hear This: Asian Anthology - Rock of Asia

Rating: **** 1/2

The brainchild of veteran multi-instrumentalist Nikki Matsumoto, Rock of Asia is a folk-rock fusion project that has been around since 2010. In fact, they dropped their first music on the day of the Great Northern Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the seismic waves created by this propulsive ensemble make that seem more than a coincidence.

Watch video for "Lal Dhaga" on YouTube below:

Matsumoto, in addition to guitars, bass, and percussion, also absolutely shreds on the more traditional biwa (sort of a lute-like plucked instrument). He slogged through L.A.’s rock scene for several years before founding RofA.

With five regular members and many guests on the concert stage, this act has an extensive touring resume (both here and abroad), and unlike some ‘classic rock’ warhorses, their studio works actually make you want to feel their energy live.

This Anthology truly shows off their range in a compilation that feels (in a good way) like both a ‘greatest hits’ and a cohesive standalone album. Over a sprawling 14 (!) tracks, the song list here covers a lot of ground and feels challenging and tight at the same time.

The opening track (and latest video) off Asian Anthology starts with insistent drums, and then after a tempo change worthy of Kashmir-era Zeppelin (but more authentic), the propulsive nature of the track chugs along nicely. In simpler terms? It. Rocks. Hard.

There’s plenty of variety here, too, as fits an ‘anthology.’ As just one example of this surprising eclecticism, imagine a traditional Irish shanty, done with traditional JAPANESE flavor, and you’ll have an idea of what’s in store when you listen to Guardian of the Sea.

About halfway through the journey, things slow down for a double-dose off melancholy, with the standout Mikoto featuring opening intertwined violin and shakuhachi (it’s like a flute—Google it) and the evocative, dream-like Kojo No Tsuki.

At this point, the album ramps up again and carries you to the end of a fascinating cross-cultural journey with more tracks that rock. Hard. In today’s musical climate of clones, when alternative music isn’t really THAT alternative anymore, Rock of Ages are clearly doing their own thing, and that alone makes Asian Anthology worth your time.

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