Shugo Tokumaru
Night Piece
/music related; 2005/


I deserve a severe beating for taking so long to review this little gem of an album (I say little because it is just over twenty-five minutes long).  Definitely one of the sleeper hits from last year, Shugo Tokumaru’s Night Piece is an album full of intricacies.  On the surface it may appear as a folk-pop record but there are so many beautiful subtleties scattered across these songs that you would expect such detailed craftsmanship from, say, a top bracket IDM musician.  Tokumaru’s recording sounds so organic, even given the various electronics, that you feel as if a blanket of sound has been thrown over your head.  Indeed, each of these songs feels like a piece of exquisitely tapered cloth, one that you can touch and appreciate; it’s texture, design and softness adding to the whole piece.

Night Piece sounds foreign—it is made up of a rustic, rural pop whose aesthetic is alien to my Western ears.  At first you may want to compare Tokumaru to Devendra Banhart or Sufjan Stevens, but those comparisons are pretty off the mark.  Tokumaru doesn’t posses the inherent weirdness of Banhart (an appreciation for the small things in life, yes) and he isn’t concerned with sweeping, literal gestures as Stevens is.  To me, it sounds as if Tokumaru is a gentle old man, who has spent his days collecting sounds, placing them into a jar and eventually constructing something beautiful out of them.  Imagine my surprise when, prowling the internet, I discovered that he is in fact only in his twenties.

Many of the instruments on Night Piece are fairly typical, but they are played to the most exotic of extremes.  Acoustic guitars are plucked instead of strummed.  Backwards riffs aren’t too far from the string like electronics.  All while field recordings of crickets chirp away in the background.  Opener “Such a Color” begins with robust plucking until nighttime backyard sounds enter along with Tokumaru’s silky sweet tenor.  The song finishes in a beautiful coda where light percussion joins wistful vocal melody and cascading guitar.  “Light Chair” follows with more wonderful plucking and small animal noises which are either real or electronics made to sound like small animal noises.  “Lantern on the Water” is perhaps the albums most majestic song.  What sounds like treated cello is played as soft maraca and barely there electronics create a dreamscape of sound.  The middle section of the album is decidedly more lighthearted than the melancholic first section.  “A Kite of Night” ends the album on a thread—your ears have to perk up to hear the barely there sweetness of Tokumaru’s goodbye.  The song sounds exactly as the title suggests—like a kite floating still in the black of a night sky.  An alien image that at once sums up the foreignness and familiarity inherent in these precious recordings.

 - Andrew Iliadis

/october 2005/