Shugo Tokumaru is one freakishly gifted multi-instrumental/bedroom-pop composer who is able to magically pile his copious instrumentals on top of each other in an arrangement that looks outrageous on paper, but ultimately works in implementation. His calm, sweet-sounding music evokes a dazzlingly eccentric and meticulously-crafted environment in his latest album, “In Focus?”
Tokumaru’s childlike glee is first introduced and conveyed through the album’s title and cover art. “In Focus?” asks listeners whether they think the album evokes a specific theme throughout its 15 tracks. A hand holding a magnifying lens is depicted on the cover, representing one’s journey to figuring out the world through curiosity. Tokumaru is able to express this through short instrumental interludes that are implanted between every couple of songs; these serve as shifts in tone for upcoming tracks. By moving onto an assortment of keynotes through each intermission, he is able to show us the continuously changing search for what is new.
The first standout piece is the second song, “Katachi,” which starts off with an adorable toy flute melody, soon met with a catchy clap-step beat that beckons its listeners. Tokumaru sings the album entirely in Japanese, which for a non-speaker like myself, transforms his breathy vocals and lyrics into the effect of a new instrument. “Decorate” features a giddy collection of sounds reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens’ lo-fi folk compositions. Tokumaru hooks the listener into his musical world with a beautifully sweeping, harmony-laden chorus.
In contrast to the brighter melodies of exploration in the first two-thirds of the album, Tokumaru takes on a more subdued and settled tone in “Tightrope.” By transitioning into mellower pieces, he signifies one’s maturity and growth from their previous experiences in curiosity.
Initially “In Focus?” seems to be a sweet, perfectly constructed indie-pop confection, but once you turn up the volume and pay attention, Shugo Tokumaru’s true emotions emerge in an intricate sphere of instrumentals and detail. From the toy flutes to the manifold gadgets—such as wood blocks—that he uses in each of his tracks, you can hear the kaleidoscope of voices twist and shift into new positions, creating different tones and themes. Although the album ceaselessly turns and tweaks its sounds, the overall record is cohesive and coherent, each piece with its own clear-cut niche in the pile of comprehensively explored musicality and ideas.
Rating: 4 stars