|By Matt Gburek||Tuesday, 6 Jan 2009|
ROVO consists of six members (two drummers, guitar, bass, keyboards, and electric violin) and are self-described as “man-powered trance music”. Though this and their eclectic blend of instruments may have gained them something of a reputation within the Japanese club-music scene, their music is at heart not anything resembling techno, but rather a blend of epic progressive rock, funk, and trippy synthesizers pieced together in a post-rock format. The songs are long, start off slow and minimalist, begin to build up steam while gradually adding more instruments into the mix, then surge ahead at a million miles per hour until burning out and fading away. Formed in the mid-nineties by violinist Yuji Katsui (of Bondage Fruit) and guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto (of BOREDOMS) with the intention of “doing something
spacey” after recieving inspiration from attending a rave in London, they have been honing their epic space-prog for over a decade now, but Nuou, their latest offering, is an accumulation of what they’ve learned from trial and error on their previous albums, and their greatest accomplishment yet. As is typical with post rock, ROVO’s songs tend to stretch on a bit long (the shortest on Nuou being nine minutes in length), but where Nuou really shines is its overall sense of diversity and ability to remain engaging even when the songs are obviously “setting up” for something that will pay off later in the end. ROVO’s last album, 2006’s “Condor,” featured three tracks that were effectively parts of one long song, and clocked in at about fifty-five minutes in length. While it overall proved a decent post-rock epic, it was plagued by repetitious buildups that stretched on interminably (sometimes in excess of fifteen minutes) and either didn’t pay off in the end enough to justify the wait or just went nowhere. Nuou seems a bit more conscious of the fine line between “epic” and “excess”. With five tracks averaging at about 10-12 minutes each, the material is much more digestible and each song is unique and dynamic enough to where even it’s more subdued or suspenseful parts are enjoyable to listen to on their own merits and keep the listener engaged. The most striking aural texture in most of ROVO’s catalogue (and what ultimately separates them from other bands of their ilk) is, of course, the emotional and
booming whine of Yuji Katsui’s electric violin which serves as the centerpiece for most of their work, and on Nuou this is no exception. The album begins with “Koo,” kicking things off with a funky guitar riff which becomes overpowered by ambient electric violin moans before exploding into a fury of bongos and noisy chaos. The next three tracks all run seamlessly together starting with “Ouo”, a slow jam largely centered around a jazzy keyboard piece that takes on a more organic feel as earthy percussion and violin riffs that would not be out of place at the county jamboree enter the mix. This runs into “Melodia” which, as the name suggests, is sweeping and melodic, initially subdued and features soft percussion and long, downright romantic violin riffs that flows like a river before raging like a tidal wave in the last couple minutes. “Agora,” the album’s penultimate track, is a vaguely middle-eastern sounding whirling dervish picking up where the last track left off, centered around a central violin passage which soon grows in speed and volume and is backed up
by two drum kits having the life hammered out of them. But “Cado,” the album’s final track, proves to be by far the albums’ best moment, and perhaps the single most representative track of what ROVO does best out of their entire output from the past ten-odd years. Beginning with long, slow violin sweeps and scattered drums, it changes gears midway to a funky, improv slow-jam before breaking into an epic yet formless surge of psychedelic energy that takes off and soars into the heavens, then gently ebbs away in its final moments. It’s danceable, beautiful, and powerful all at once and easily one of the best sonic moments captured on CD this year. Ultimately, Nuou sees ROVO perfecting a formula that they’ve been slowly refining for the last decade. Here they’ve managed to create music that is playful at heart yet serious when it needs to be, offers suspenseful buildups that pull you in (but that don’t drag on any longer than they need to), is engaging and uplifting, and is never, ever boring. ROVO, as a band, are easily my favorite new musical discovery of this year, and anyone still wondering why owes it to themselves to check out Nuou.