Release Date: Feb 15, 2011
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop, International
With the kind of propulsive, sugar rush of chimes, strums, clicks, clacks, and whistles that spill out of his second Stateside release, Japanese songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shugo Tokumaru has a deep propensity for whimsy. Invoking the most sunny-day innocence of ’60s pop with effortless amounts of homeland lyrics and layers, the overwhelming sweetness has the potential to wear thin for the duration of a whole album. Still, it’s hard to be completely turned off from so much unbridled joy.
The reputation that had preceded Shugo Tokumaru before listening to this disc was one of home-recorded-pop mastery. Notes of his use of over 100 instruments abound, as well as his apparently skyrocketing status in his native Japan. Considering the state of lo-fi, bedroom recordings in America, one couldn’t be faulted (I hope) for expecting drugged-out, scuzzy, reverbed, even sadsack from another bedroom record.
It's no real surprise that, when stateside, Japanese artist Shugo Tokumaru tours with some of the most skilled musicians Western music has to offer. He's toured as part of the Magnetic Fields, and assembled his own backing band with members of the National and Beirut. So not only does he tour with these guys, but he also commands enough respect to get them to gladly play behind him.
Shugo Tokumaru is a freakishly gifted Japanese bedroom-pop artist with an effortless command of hundreds of instruments. Judging from the gentle, whimsical tone of his music, he is also probably one of the sweetest people in the world. The joyful music he creates, however, has extremely limited use-- 15 minutes of his manically giddy pop should be enough for anybody.
Some artists manage to capture the imagination and attention of the world at large, and change the world with their music. Shugo Tokumaru is not one of those artists, and his latest release Port Entropy won't likely make him an overnight sensation. But Shugo's relative obscurity is not for lack of talent. The multi-talented instrumentalist certainly knows his way around a guitar, and a keyboard, and a banjo, and a musical saw, and about 150 other instruments.
It would be a mistake to call Shugo Tokumaru’s music naïve, although it would be incredibly easy to do so. The giddy rush of toy instruments, effervescent melodies, and his innocent, understated voice seem painfully out-of-step with the world outside, where revolution and turmoil seethe and we are seemingly always just one cataclysmic misstep away from going beyond the precipice. His latest, Port Entropy, is a child-like symphony of tiny pleasures, a delicate flower in bloom, always likely to be crushed under stampeding jackboots.
In the summer of 2006, I ducked into a small, subterranean club in Tokyo’s Yoyogi neighborhood, excited to finally see one of my favorite new songwriters perform live. When I approached Shugo Tokumaru at the merch table, he seemed a bit taken aback. It was as if he couldn’t comprehend how a foreigner might know of him, let alone attend one of his shows.