Shugo Tokumaru’s palette is vast. The Japanese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is known for creating every aspect of his music, using over 100 different kinds of traditional and non-traditional instruments, but on his new album, Toss, he decided to take a different approach. He enlisted the help of musicians from around the world (including members of his live band, an orchestra, Maywa Denki, and many others) to record bits and pieces of music without knowing how they would ultimately be used. Tokumaru took the fragments others had recorded for him and began lining up the short phrases and riffs, repeatedly combining and substituting the arrangements as if he was working on a musical puzzle. The result, Toss, is a burst of sunshine through stained glass that dazzles and delights.
Toss begins with frenzied opening track “Lift”, which builds smashed piano chords atop whirling mechanisms and Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier’s steady beat. Words begin to filter through until sound gushes out across the track’s blushing landscape. Horns, strings, brass, woodwinds spread out across the canvas adding drops of color to every space. From description alone, it may sound like unrelenting chaos, but the joyous surprise of discovery pulls through the song, and there is enough space for all to coexist. As lofty as it may sound, Toss, is more in line with Beatles psychedelia than just about anything else – the colors that vivid, the world that large, the creativity that unencumbered.
The album is not an entire whirlwind of frenzied color, however. Tokumaru has a natural sense of pace, and rather than the all out attack, which some may expect after the opening tracks, the record is measured. Take “Route”, the slow, simple vocal and piano piece that appears a third of the way through Toss. Each track before it jangles and dances bursting with rich flourishes of multi-instrumentalism. On “Route”, clarity is king. It’s simplicity transcends language and borders, and it’s appearance acts as a drastic shift in the album’s landscape. However, the song doesn’t feel like an abrupt bump in the road, or in anyway halting, rather it’s like slowing to take in wind on a long run. The song, which in some moments seems sad, turns into the joyous sound that Tokumaru places throughout the album. The joy to create and discover, whether simple or complex. It’s natural and poised, and Tokumaru – the supreme athlete – is simply preparing for another explosion of energy.
All too often in Western society, we separate the athlete and the artist – the simple brooding beast, the fragile complex creator. Both, however, live in a world of supreme concentration, body and mind fully focused on the task at hand. Therefore, it is not surprising that Eastern philosophy oozes through what might seem at first like an album of Western indie pop. Like The Beatles who found a new sound through their physical and spiritual journeys in India, Tokumaru’s Japanese roots sow traditional instrumentation throughout the record. It’s most certainly pop, but of a different nature than one is used to, and it all works together reaching towards a singular goal.
“Vektor” finds another bit of Tokumaru’s athletic wizardry. He bends sounds across his field to fit into his vision. Guitar and drums work together to create a polyrhythm that lends itself to the Polynesian funk song, which is blissful as a Tahitian sunrise. Vocals also add to the dancing pattern of the track before coming together to form the melody. The track is reminiscent of music found on The Local Natives’ Gorilla Manor, but also Os Mutantes. And it’s the artist’s ability to seamlessly weave varied sounds that makes Toss such a unique joy to listen to.
Spanish guitar also makes appearances throughout Toss. On “Migiri”, Tokumaru translates a walk along stone steps where he seems as if he is singing to the moon with the simple classical guitar in hand to album closer “Bricolage Music”. “Migiri” is another moment where Tokumaru’s methodical nature can be witnessed. Its tiki-taka style moves slowly forward, preparing listeners for the album’s all encompassing end. And, indeed, much like its title would suggest, “Bricolage Music” brings elements from across Toss together for one last revelatory ovation, where both audience and composer shine together.
Shugo Tokumaru finds his inspiration from sounds throughout the world. He grabs from all over the map, but is able to create a global vision. He is a worldly artist who paints with imagination inspired by varied sources that are as different, yet brilliant, as Pollock, Warhol, Hokusai and Dali. Yet he is also a fantastic athlete that understands pace. He embodies Toss with movement and pause, bursting forward only when necessary. Each piece of sound fits perfectly into the harlequin puzzle.
For its combination of athleticism and artistry, we give Shugo Tokumaru – Toss 1198 out of 1337 brilliant, colorful brushstrokes.
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