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Imago (Incidental Music)

Wednesday, Jul 11 2001
Not to be confused with the Bay Area's Rova Saxophone Quartet, Rovo is a Japanese septet that includes Boredoms guitarist Yamamoto Seiichi, violinist Katsui Yuji of Demi Semi Quaver and Bondage Fruit, and Dub Squad electronics wiz Masuko Tatsuki. Rovo's first full-length release, Imago, emerged in 1999 on Sony Japan and was nigh unobtainable in the U.S. until very recently, when S.F. resident Brad Stark started the Incidental label specifically to give the album a proper domestic release. The former KUSF music director was motivated in part by his radio station's rabid response to the import album -- KUSF made Imago its second-most-played record of 1999.

Propelled by the polyrhythmic counterpoint of dual drummers Yoshigaki Yasuhiro and Okabe Youichi and bassist Harada Jin, the Rovo sound is what the band likes to call "man driven trance," a hard-to-pin-down mélange of rhythms and melodies from both the acoustic and electronic realms. Catchy and compelling, Imago is genre-splicing at its most smartly executed and listener friendly. In the grand Japanese tradition of assimilation and mutation, the Rovo crew takes elements of electronica, dub, and Kraut rock, and mixes them into a tantalizing nabe stew that's both instantly familiar and oddly off-kilter. Over a well-executed instrumental mimicking of mechanized drum 'n' bass rhythms Rovo places layers of woodwinds, bells, synthesizers, samples, and sound effects. While hypnotic, Imago offers no shortage of surprises: During the seven long instrumental tracks, a lulling jam may veer unexpectedly into a hard-charging drum workout ("Kmara") and blippy space-dub might transmute into percolating futurist pop suitable for a car commercial ("Mattah"). As for the cryptic one-word titles like "N'dam" and "Numa," it's anyone's guess what they reference.

Last year Rovo released its second full-length, Pyramid (again, only in Japan), consisting of one 43-minute track. More single-minded but no less kaleidoscopic than Imago, Pyramid's sprawling theme variations pig-pile into a sort of modern-day prog bolero, one that steadily builds to an epic, spine-tingling roar of a finish. Here's hoping for something equally transcendent when Rovo makes its first-ever U.S. appearance this week. -- Mike Rowell

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Mike Rowell


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