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Shugo Tokumaru – Exit

September 30, 2008

Prepare to have your definitions of Japanese pop turned inside out. If your perception of the genre has previously been restricted to products of MTV Asia, sub par anime, and j-pop pretty boys/girls, then prepare to get knocked off your barstool. Jack of all trades Shugo Tokumaru’s third solo album is the record that he has been destined to make since 2004’s mini pop masterpiece Night Piece. But both Night Piece’s nocturnal atmospherics and the following year’s psychedelic excursions of L.S.T. were highly themed, and it would only seem like a matter of time before Tokumaru would make an album like Exit, a full on pop album. Immediately significant is the first song, the first by Shugo that could constitute as a pop hit. It is here that all of his finest talents convene for one hell of a single. He has a great sense of the melodic hook, and his advertised multi-instrumental talent still ends up being the focal point of both Parachute and the better portion of the rest of the album. Silly melodic flourishes and gentle harmonies dress each piece, and the album is said to use over fifty of the one hundred instruments that Tokumaru claims to be able to play. This is only one of the many features of Tokumaru’s albums that have caused critics to label him a pop innovator. He is certainly this, but more in the traditional sense. The time signature switchups and chord progressions that the musician utilizes are definitely out of the ordinary, at least for traditional pop, but nothing here feels out of place, and every song is a whimsical, poppy gem splashed with childlike innocence and Eastern style. Also notable are his vocals, light, easily maneuverable, and completely appropriate for his music, and although his lyrics wont be understood by non-Japanese speakers, his emotion transcends language barriers. Highlights are not few. The first three songs, Parachute, Green Rain (continuing his tradition of songs named after various forms of precipitation) and Clocca are extremely memorable and easy picks for singles. The musician also finds room for straightforward guitar pop throughout, making the acoustic guitar his main instrument of choice as gently exemplified on Sanganichi. Also highly memorable are the last three songs. Hidamari is a gentle lullaby spectacularly detailed with lush instrumentation that manages to not be overbearing in any way. La La Radio is possibly the most ambitious song on the album. It transitions from melancholic to fast in catchy in about the most effective way imaginable. The album is capped off by Wedding, an instrumental piece that might have felt at home on Night Piece four years ago. What is truly amazing is that it feels completely at home here as well, which is a good indication that Tokumaru has amassed a solid repertoire of songs and styles throughout his three albums that can truly qualify him as a distinctive figure in music.

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