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Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012

LISTENING POST

Shugo Tokumaru "In Focus?"


Special to The Japan Times

Since debuting with 2004's "Night Piece," Tokyo multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Shugo Tokumaru has been a critical darling at home and abroad. He's shared stages with some of underground music's bigger players including Animal Collective, Deerhoof and The Magnetic Fields. For his last American tour, his backing band boasted members from Beirut and The National — a sign that he's equally revered by musicians and scribes alike. Tokumaru is beginning to experience more mainstream exposure in Japan, too. His music has been used in commercials here, and 2010's "Port Entropy" was his first disc to crack the Top 40 on the Oricon album charts.

News photo

On much of his back catalogue, Tokumaru's whimsical blend of eclectic folk and pop possesses a wonderful childlike quality. His fifth full-length, "In Focus?" doesn't stray from this. Opening cut "Circle" starts as a softly strummed acoustic number before being accented with keys, xylophone and an assortment of playful noises as the track seamlessly blends into the orchestral pop of "Katachi." Tokumaru uses Autotune to create elfish background vocals on "Katachi" adding an extra feeling of innocence to his fantastic mini-symphony of guitar, electronic tinkering, shakers, clappers and slide whistle. The instrumental "Gamma" sounds more like organic early Nintendo video-game music and incorporates some playful squeaks and even a rubber duck quack before morphing into a musical-toy-constructed soundscape that brings to mind the artist's highly infectious "Rum Hee" song from "Port Entropy."

"Down Down" is a rollicking cowboy campfire singalong for the most part. Always open to adding innovative twists and turns, the end of the track sees Tokumaru trying his hand at making a little bit of experimental country as a cow's moo ushers in a funky array of short-lived playing from a dozen different instruments that sound like they are being banged on by an excited kindergartener allowed to run amok in a music store.

Tokumaru continues to craft songs that are interesting and invoke a sense of wonder at the same time. Listening to his latest offering, it's not tough to imagine him being equally well-received in a room full of gleeful toddlers as he is in clubs packed with chin-stroking hipsters.

Watch for an interview with Shugo Tokumaru in The Japan Times on Nov. 23. The artist's nationwide tour hits Gensanya in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, on Nov. 24 (6 p.m. start; ¥3,500 in advance). For more information, visit www.shugotokumaru.com .

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