September 2, 2008
P-Vine Records/Almost Gold
The stuttered waltz and whimsy that is evoked by Shugo Tokumaru’s latest sonic fable Exit infuses Japanese flourishes with Lennonesque imagination. The record captures the color of a fairy tale and the levity of short bedtime story. He never requires much of the listener other than an appreciation for the occasional appearance of odd instruments and an appetite for extraordinary music. The record never seems to overreach with its Eastern idioms and playful melodies. That Exit is sung in Japanese (I think) adds a level of open-ended intangibility; meaning always remains peripheral to the feel.
Live, Shugo’s plays the guitar as if it were his Siamese twin. His instrument at times seems as big as the man himself. There is an unmistakable element of bluegrass that flavors his live performance. Much of the other nuance present on the record becomes lost in the open space of the venue leaving the defined plucks and strums to fend for themselves. Perhaps this is because his music is so dense that the guitar becomes consumed by the disjointed tinkering bells and ethereal polyrhythm. During his 2008 CMJ appearance at the Bowery Ballroom, as understated as his presence was, he exceeded every other act that night with sheer creativity. As always, the Bowery’s CMJ show was over priced and underperformed; Shugo would have been served by a more intimate venue and a less preoccupied audience.
I am quite sick of the tendency for any musician who employs a whistle in their song structure to be labeled the next “Insert Nationality” Sufjan Stevens. Shugo seems to get shellacked with this honor quite often. His instrumentality relies on a menagerie of distinct sounds that have the sole intent of forming an effervescent ambience. I don’t imagine such a project can be said to be unique to Mr. Stevens. Indeed, Shugo Tokumaru’s Exit is one of the most original records released this year, and it is certain to endear many who listen. If you get the chance to see this guy upon his North American return, be sure to catch him at an appropriate venue, so that all the glorious array of whips and bobs don’t just float away.
Night Piece- 2004