Posts Tagged ‘Shugo Tokumaru’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Shugo Tokumaru – Night Piece

February 27, 2009
Shugo Tokumaru - Night Piece

Shugo Tokumaru - Night Piece

Miles Davis once said, “Don’t play what’s there – play what’s not there.” Shugo Tokumaru’s debut album Night Piece seems to do just this, perhaps not in the exact way that Davis described his musical philosophy, but much like a wood block painting where musical subtleties are outlined by vast expanses of empty space that jut off into infinity. Tokumaru’s lean, twenty five minute micro-music album, however, is quite finite at first listen. It seems to be over as soon as it starts, and just a few listens reveal just about everything the album has to offer. Why, then, does it demand the close attention and repeated listens that it does? Night Piece reaches a sort of equilibrium where sweet melodies and subtle irregularities balance each other out. For this reason, the album is completely engaging and ambitious, but simultaneously warm and comforting. The humble melodies are often left bare and full, so that each pluck fills the massive space it inhabits and each rhythm takes confident control. It is difficult to describe the simple command that the album has, but once it hooks you it doesn’t let go. Every song is a musical haiku, completely satisfied with its own simple beauty. Once you get comfortable with Night Piece, it might as well blanket your thoughts and really just make you extremely HAPPY for an indefinite number of plays.

Shugo Tokumaru

Shugo Tokumaru

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Washington DC

November 9, 2008

I have lived in Washington DC for nearly three months.

I find it difficult to even begin to sum up how I feel about my new life and this new city. In some respects I am extremely happy, slightly uneasy in some others, indifferent in others still.

If someone I know asks me how I like my new school and Washington DC, I tell them I love it. This is the truth, no distortion. I do love it here.

Somewhere along the line things started to go extremely right for me. I don’t think I could mention a specific point in time when things started to go very well for me, but it was around the time of Thanksgiving 2007. I was no longer depressed, and I started to find beauty in little things. Insignificant things. Life became poetry. Details fascinated me. I was learning things about myself and the world around me rapidly and appreciatively. I still feel this way now.

Things began to go really well with my friends. I started going out with my lovely girlfriend. My family started to seem less fucked up. I got into three colleges. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, American University, and the George Washington University. I always counted out GWU because it cost so much, but then I got the scholarships, and the financial aid, and my future didn’t seem like so much of a stretch anymore. UofI gave me $500, while American and GWU gave me thousands. It seemed as if something wanted me to go to Washington DC. So I did. I saw the fireworks on the Fourth of July, and then I just continued to do what I was doing, and here I am, walking on solid ground and doing what I do.

Of course, it is not like I am simply walking on sunshine every day. I definitely am not. I have good days and I have bad days. What is still particularly disconcerting about this is that the good and bad days seem to have no specific cause. Some days, everything goes right and everything feels wrong, and on other days I feel unstoppable despite the fact that I am followed around by my own rain cloud. I don’t understand it and I hope to ask someone about it sometime soon, possibly my psychology teacher. I have obviously been able to manage very well but it bothers me not having control over my mind.

Which is why I don’t drink or do drugs. We talked about drug abuse in abnormal psychology. Barbiturates, hallucinogens, narcotics. Occasionally I have headaches so bad I wish I was high, or take enough allergy medicine to feel delusional, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I am well on my way to becoming a caffeine addict, but my mind is already fucked up enough as it is, and I see little good in causing it any more stress by adding any serious substances to the equation. It means I don’t have as much fun at parties, and I don’t go to them much, but I don’t really care.

When I want to lose my head, I climb the stairs to the top of the parking garage and look off at the city. Sometimes I climb the little ladder to the very top, before I am silently scrutinized by twenty somethings in their Mitsubishis, and I get a view of the Virginia skyline, which is quite beautiful. The buildings are much taller than the buildings in Washington DC.

But they don’t have to try too hard. I noticed several things within the first week of living in DC, one of the first of which being that the buildings here are very short. At least compared to the buildings in Chicago. The buildings in Chicago literally scrape the sky, but the ones here are very stout in comparison. To some extent I miss the cold of Chicago, the cold that comes up from the buildings and whirls and cuts right through you. Washington DC is a southern town, so it stays warm for a long time, and that cold is yet to come. I miss the weather back in Illinois. It doesn’t feel like home here, in that respect. I think it has the potential to be able to, but when it is still seventy degrees in November, it feels like someone has given the city painkillers and it has numbed to this unnatural warmth.

Another thing I noticed is that the animals aren’t afraid of people. In the suburbs of Chicago and even Chicago itself, the birds and squirrels do not let you get close to them. Well, the pigeons do, but it’s really only because they are dumb. But here the swallows line up on the fences as people walk by, and sometimes only barely hop out of the way of your feet on the pavement as your feet swing in time. The squirrels are insane. Rather, nuts. They will run out in front of you, jump on and off of tree stumps continuously, and just generally be very weird.

I also experienced the first time I ever really felt like an adult. I didn’t feel like an adult when I got my drivers license, or got my first job, or graduated High School, or turned eighteen, although all of these experiences still hold significance to me. But putting my absentee ballot in the mailbox made me truly feel like I was participating in the world that I live in. I think these milestones come at different times and in different places for different people, and they seem to be unexpected.

The experience of watching the election returns and watching history be made was unforgettable. It was by far the most distinct memory I have had here so far. The College Democrats’ watch party was fun, but what was really the highlight of the night was when what felt like every college student in DC (all the liberal ones, anyway, which would be a vast majority of them) ran down to the White House and partied outside the front gate. It was an experience to remember, with lots of celebrating, cheering, rejoicing, chanting, and all around good energy. A couple camera’s got up in my face and me and my friends ended up on the Associated Press as well as BBC news.

Whose house?

Barack’s house.

I’m here for college. I love GWU a lot. Maybe I just got lucky this semester. It seems like I keep on getting lucky. All five of my classes are excellent, and I would consider all five of my professors excellent too. I don’t always get great marks on tests, and I don’t always study enough. But it seems like I get it right more often than not, despite the fact that I always underestimate myself. I told people about this problem. This complete certainty that I don’t have things under control despite the fact that I seem to. They told me to roll with it. If it’s working, don’t fix it. I guess that’s what I’ll do.

I sign up for next semester’s classes tomorrow. I’ve got a flexible game plan together, but I really want to sign up for a University Writing class called Write of the Living Dead, which focuses on horror film. I also would like to get Statistics out of the way. I want to also take Social Psychology, which pretty much epitomizes the focus of my college studies, and do the second half of Introduction to Western Art. The fifth class is up for grabs. Possibly Anthropology, or Astronomy, or whatever else fits. But those first four I really, really want to take, and I’m going to wake up very early so that I can register as soon as the website opens to ensure I get them.

My interest in writing has waned, although my interest in music has not. My time and energy has simply been directed towards other things. I have been porting all of my music reviews to amazon.com, and that takes a while. Also, I am going to train to be able to be an intern at WRGW, the University’s radio station. With any luck I will have my own radio show by next semester.

DC has some pretty great record stores, apparently. The area around DuPont Circle and Adams Morgan reminds me a lot of Wicker Park in Chicago. Young, hip, fun, and totally hopping on any given night. My favorite record store is called The Red Onion. It sells lots of old records, CDs, and books at good prices. The employees are nice and very helpful, and the environment is comfortable. Since I got here I have amassed a fairly large stack of CDs that are now on my bookshelf. I’m still an avid music listener and my hobby won’t likely slow down.

I have gone to some pretty great concerts. I saw Broken Social Scene live in Falls Church Virginia, and they kicked all kinds of ass. The Magnetic Fields also played at GW, so I saw them again as well as Shugo Tokumaru, who opened for them and who I have been extremely into for the past month. I had a taste of classical music that I have missed at the Kennedy Center watching the Friday Morning Music Club Symphony Orchestra play lots of good Beethoven. They aren’t quite as good as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but really, who is? They were good, and pianist Wayne Weng was impressive.

The biggest problems I face here are social. I have not had a hard time making friends here, and the ones I have made I like a lot, but it is hard to start on a blank slate and try to give all these new people an accurate representation of who I am. I miss my family and friends from back home. I haven’t seen anyone from my old life in three months besides my mother and my grandmother on parent weekend. I go home for four days for Thanksgiving break and three weeks for Winter Break. Although I love it here, I am looking forward to going back home and seeing everyone again.

The best thing I have to say so far is that I know I am in the right place, going in the right direction. My problems are mostly easily fixed, and I am managing just fine. I have seen and done many things here that I could have never done back home. It was right for me to come here, and I can see myself living here happily and productively for the next four years of my life.

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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.