Shugo Tokumaru - Exit
How do you not know about Shugo Tokumaru? Well, I suppose the answer is simple. His first album, Night Piece was released in 2004, but fell under the radar, despite having label backing from the U.S. and Japan. His 2005 follow-up, L.S.T was released in Japan and Europe but, again, did not garner the critical and public praise it deserved. In fact, I've discovered that only a very tiny cult Shugo following exists in the U.S., which mainly consists of writers at Cokemachineglow.com and the employees at Other Music in Manhattan. In Japan, this 27-year old wunderkind has earned a bit of indie credibility, playing shows with Iron & Wine, Animal Collective, Jens Lekman, No Age, and M. Ward. Such credibility is much deserved, yet still seems to cut him short. Shugo Tokumaru bases his music on folk, mystifies it with electronics, and sweetens it with an air of pop. His voice is boyishly soft, like Sufjan Stevens, and the few lyrics I've read that have been translated into English are charmingly poetic. What is most interesting about Tokumaru's music are his arrangements, often altering the tempo, not as a time signature, but as a completely different song. He seems to pen indie sonatinas that usually revolve around an acoustic guitar or banjo and follow several different movements – similar to the classical Allegro, Adagio, Presto form. Then he sugar-coats it with his sweet voice, making it almost operatic, like a quirky indie-"popera." The only other album that is relatable to Tokumaru's music is Jon Brion's soundtrack to David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees. Even so, it is a completely brilliant, unique sound and thus, it is difficult to understand how such a talented musician has not infiltrated the U.S. indie music scene or, at least, garnered more critical praise here. However, with the release of his latest album, Exit, in Japan and the finalization of an international deal with Almost Gold Recordings, home of Peter, Bjorn & John and Calvin Harris, Japan's best kept secret is poised to become an international wonder.
Exit is quite similar to the rest of Tokumaru's catalog, which is utterly delightful. The melodies jump from Indy car to snail paces, usually within a single song, and Tokumaru also adds in his quirky flair, with some very interesting, synthetic, keyboard sounds. Out of the gates, "Parachute" begins with hyper-speed finger-picking, which is accented with a lovely, twinkling toy-xylophone sound. His voice is still sweet, but it seems to be a bit stronger, as if he has widened his range. The next track, "Green Rain," again begins quickly with what may be a harmonium or possibly a toy-accordion as Tokumaru sings as fast as the tempo of the melody. Then, in true Shugo form, the song breaks down into a lilting rhythm and melody as Tokumaru croons above light piano. Then – Presto! – the song closes out with its original pace.
His song structures are always erratic and thus, they will always keeps you on your toes. "Clocca" has a pop charm to it with hand claps complimenting the rhythm section and the chorus sung in restrained, staccato yelps, similar to Pinback. For a very brief moment, the song halts and a romantic French accordion carries you off to Paris, then jets you back to Tokyo as the initial fast tempo jumps back in. With a solid base to stand on, provided by Almost Gold Recordings, maybe Shugo himself will be jetting from Paris to Tokyo and, hopefully, every other major city to play Exit and his back catalog. Hopefully, he will be able to reach a larger audience because, as history shows, it's been a long time coming.
- Caleb Morairty