As I get older, I tend to find myself getting more insular in my tastes. When I go to a favorite restaurant, for example, I’m hesitant to order something I’ve never had before for fear that I might hate it and then go hungry for the rest of the evening. So I end up ordering the chicken fingers every time, because I know they’re good and I know I won’t be disappointed. The downside to this is I know what I’m getting, and there’s no chance I will be pleasantly surprised to discover new tastes that I’ve never experienced before. One place that I’ve tried to avoid this annoying new habit is in listening to new music, but if you look back at many of my past reviews, you’re going to see a lot of folky independent rock. It’s good that I know what I like, but I also fear that I’m limiting myself sonically.
I noticed recently that I am increasingly limiting myself to bands/artists from America, Canada, and Europe, and mostly only ones that speak English. Not many foreign language artists are able to penetrate my monolingual ignorance, but occasionally one comes along that catches my ear and excites me even though I have nary a clue what they’re singing about. The first band to do this for me was the massively awesome Argentine pop/rock band Soda Stereo. The latest artist to break the language barrier is Japanese bedroom artist Shugo Tokumaru with his 2008 album Exit.
The first of Tokumaru’s three albums to be given a proper stateside release, Exit is a delightful little gem of a pop record that aptly demonstrates Tokumaru’s reverence for dreamy 60’s pop and his seemingly bottomless well of instrumentation. Throughout the album, we hear toy pianos, bagpipes, accordions, glockenspiels, flutes, recorders, harmoniums, and an array of stringed acoustic instruments, all played expertly. However, this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style never seems overstuffed or indulgent for the sake of indulgence. Each song has its own personality, and each is grounded by Tokumaru’s immaculate gift for pop melody.
Album opener “Parachute” is an excellent example of Tokumaru’s genius and one of the record’s highlights. Propelled along by a manic, jaunty acoustic fingerpick and accompanying bells, the song is reminiscent of The Kinks and would be right at home soundtracking the next Wes Anderson flick. The English chorus blends well with the Japanese verse, and I don’t even need to hear Tokumaru sing “All day holiday” to know what the song is about. Other highlights include the psychedelic, Beatles/Floyd tinged “Clocca,” the lazy clank and infectious chorus of “Button,” or the dreamy banjo lead-in of all-instrumental album closer “Wedding” that at 1:30 bursts into the closest thing to Japanese bluegrass that you are ever likely to hear.
Shugo Tokumaru is normally the type of artist that would fly right under my radar. I even remember reading a great review of this very record on Pitchfork several months ago, but the idea of going outside of my geographical comfort zone must not have sounded appealing at the time. The great thing about a record like Exit, though, is that when you hear it, you are going to remember why it sometimes pays to step outside of the box and listen to something different. Even if you hate the majority of what you find, every now and then a record like Exit will come along and completely blow you away. Now I’m wondering what else is out there that I’ve been ignoring for too long…
Shugo Tokumaru – “Parachute”