Band of the Day

2011.10.11

Shugo Tokumaru

Whimsical, experimental Japanese pop that breaks language barriers
If you give up on climbing the ladder, you'll get blown away by a big wind.
lyrics from Parachute (English translation)

Hailing from Tokyo, Japan, Shugo Tokumaru is a singer-songwriter who began recording eclectic indie folk in 2003 while living in Los Angeles, California. Starting out as a six year old pianist, Tokumaru would later become infatuated with punk rock in his teenage years, obsessively playing Clash songs on his electric guitar. At 17 he began writing his own songs, which would mature into his current musical pastiche of dream pop, Jazz, folk and indie. His sound is noted for its use of over 100 Japanese and international instruments, and his lyrics (entirely written in Japanese) are influenced by his daily dream diary. Tokumaru’s debut LP Night Piece was released on Music Related Records after he recorded his 2003 demo Fragment. Initially a US only release, Night Piece was released internationally after strong internet sales. 2005 saw the release of L.S.T. on Compare Notes Records, and Exit was released on Polyvinyl Records in 2007. In 2009, Sony used Tokumaru’s song Rum Hee for an ad campaign, which gained him national exposure and Top 100 status. His latest LP, Port Entropy, was released on Polyvinyl Records in 2010.

Sometimes the highlight of listening to a song is paying close attention to the lyrics, allowing the poetry to elicit deep feelings. But with artists like Shugo Tokumaru, who sings entirely in Japanese, the joy is primarily captured through the music itself. Playing every single instrument on his records, over 100, Tokumaru's level of musical talent is rare. With influences ranging from The Magnetic Fields (who Tokumaru supported on an East Coast tour) to The Beatles, his songs have a surrealist and whimsical quality. They're all inspired by what is written in his daily dream diary, with each instrument used to capture a certain mood or idea from any particular dream. “Such A Color,” from his 2004 debut album Night Piece, starts off with a gentle plucking that sounds like a babbling brook in an imaginary forest. It builds up with a beautifully nostalgic harmonica riff, layered over a romantic mandolin progression. “Mist,” from 2006's L.S.T, sounds exactly as you might imagine, given the title. It's serene and tranquil, with the simple beauty of waking up at dawn, enjoying the peaceful feeling before life gets in the way. The lyrics are equally as beautifully, translating as “The pieces of the town, cut out by scissors, are disappearing/The wind arrives in the meadow, drawing a spiral/I can see the words.” Tokumaru has a knack for making sure every single song has a completely different feel. “La La Radio,” from 2008's Exit, sounds like what might happen if aliens got ahold of an ancient music box, and put their own cosmic twist on it. Whereas “Lahaha”, from 2010's Port Entropy, has a happy, innocent feel with vocalizations sounding almost like children's laughter on a playground. It doesn't matter if you understand the lyrics or not, Tokumaru manages to break the language barrier with his evocative body of work.