Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop
Review Summary: Yet another chance to tumble lovingly into the quirky mind of Shugo Tokumaru.There is a principal in biology called the “Red Queen Hypothesis” that states that something could potentially evolve to maintain the place that it has always been. There’s change, for sure, but nothing in the way of taking the organism outside of its established niche. Oddly enough, this correlates to Shugo Tokumaru and his approach to the lovely music he creates.
With each of his albums, Shugo Tokumaru slowly developed an ever more polished and detailed style, as well as a bigger following: his third album, Port Entropy, made the Top 40 of Japan's Oricon album chart, and this album was mastered at Abbey Road. These could be signs of a dull "maturity" in some artists, but In Focus? is so irrepressible that Tokumaru's small steps toward the mainstream only serve to give these delightful songs the clearest, cleanest setting possible. There's no denying that many of these tracks are among his most sophisticated -- or as sophisticated as songs like "Poker," which combines breezy, Brazilian-tinged pop with slide flutes and backing vocals that sound like they were chirped by cartoon birds, could possibly be.
Shugo Tokumaru is one of those rare people who can pile instruments all over each other in a way that makes no sense on paper and then make it come off as the most natural thing in the world. He creates toy-box indie pop with his vast collection of noise makers and a computer, and for all its obvious compositional refinement, it's still a giddy celebration of pop music's potential for mayhem. He's been doing this for a while now, with varying degrees of success, but on In Focus? it all comes together in a beautifully sharp series of Technicolor audio bursts.
Descriptions of Shugo Tokumaru mark his love of excess. He sticks his songs together with glue and toy instruments, he locks himself in his room for weeks so he can write in endless slews, and he arranges his songs with dozens of ideas and never makes a song that isn’t very much in the mix, recorded and arranged with all the bizarreness required of baroque pop’s truest maverick. Finally, and most deciding of all, he doesn’t speak our language, and so we let the flourishes speak for him.
More than any musical reference, Japanese pop composer Shugo Tokumaru evokes a hypercolor cartoon version of those Wes Anderson single shot doll-house sequences: dazzlingly eccentric, meticulously precise miniature worlds pan across your brain, chirping birds and grinning bunnies flitting about. Simply put, this is some of the cutest stuff you’ll ever hear (barring the outside chance that these lyrics are dark, though I’d wager otherwise despite not speaking Japanese), and the child-like glee built in the thousands of layers of instrumentation on new disc In Focus? is kinetically infectious. The nth-degree twee and intensely precise instrumentation work step for step with 2011’s Port Entropy, Tokumaru’s commercial breakthrough that jumped into Japan’s Top 40.