Review Summary: A gem worth seeking out.
Writing about Shugo Tokumaru or his music isn't necessarily difficult considering their demeanor. They both exhibit the kind of jubilance and catchiness that one expects from what is, more or less, a straightforward pop album, and it becomes almost irrelevant to judge the album on any sort of level beyond that.
One reason, of course, has a lot to do with the music itself, because Night Piece
is a masterpiece. There isn’t another away around it; Tokumaru’s acclaimed but criminally overlooked debut (the first in what is becoming a rather mesmerizing career) is a brilliant example of songwriting and atmosphere, an indie pop album well versed in blanket electronics and melodic freak-folk. Hailing from Tokyo, Japan, Tokumaru constructs Night Piece
with a sense of substance in style that is consistently attributed to the country’s entertainment culture; if the Nintendo-inspired guitar chords to “Sleet” are any indication (think strolling through meadows on Zelda
), Tokumaru spent more than his own fair share of time immersed in Tokyo’s gaming wonderland.
The other reason has more to do with the man himself. Wikipedia tells me that Tokumaru was born in 1980, is a Japanese songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and was a member of the pop rock band Gellers. Not a lot to go on, but anymore detail would just be superfluous; the real reveal is in Tokumaru’s music, his passion unwavering even as his emotions do. It’s hard to try to criticize a guy that seems so charming and good-natured, and he takes this charisma in stride. With another artist, the noises of dusk floating through an island breeze in “Such a Color” would play as just an effective intro of sorts. For Tokumaru, it encapsulates the song and sets the scene for the record's time and place, with layered string twiddling and tapping pervading the simply ukulele melody.
Even as the album’s opening statement, “Such a Color” would be a bright highlight on any album, but here it merely gets the ball rolling. At a blissful 25 minutes, Night Piece
doesn’t leave a note to waste, testing the same formula again and again in different and, once you’ve got a handle on Tokumaru’s style, almost obvious ways. The lone electronica-based track, “Lantern On the Water,” seems like it will never run out of ideas, building upon warps in melody structure and tribal-tinged kitchen noises to create a tense and superb highlight, fading tenderly into the subtle nostalgia of “Sleet.” Most of the focus though is in livelier pop numbers, like the fiddling acoustic line-dance “Paparazzi” that bounces with such force that its one-minute running time can barely contain it.
is at its best when Tokumaru allows the album to find personality and appeal in what can be considered “inaccessible” by popular, mainstream standards. “Funfair” is exactly what the title proclaims, a diluted lullaby controlled by a squeaky recorder and filtered through grainy vinyl trappings, while “The Mop” is one of the album’s most outright beautiful tracks, a rollicking western that helps bridge Night Piece
stateside. “Typewriter” revels in its own funky attitude, the clanking metronome beating incessantly against the strained slides of an acoustic guitar, and its Tokumaru’s youthful, smooth voice that soothes out the edges. Tokumaru’s voice is such a presence that it feels as vital an instrument as any on the album, his careful enunciation providing a solid template for the busy instrumentation around him.
And busy is exactly what Night Piece
is. Even “A Kite of Night,” the album’s closing acoustic ballad, seems to know its place, picking up in spurts only to fade slowly into silence not two minutes later. It makes for a rather fitting end to a simple pop album that feels like anything but. Now, as “A Kite of Night” ends for the fifth time tonight, I know wholeheartedly it will end again for the sixth. Night Piece
calls for that kind of attention, magnifying glass or not. In a scene where acts like Vampire Weekend and Fleet Foxes are praised for their ability to take simple pop and make great music, it’s a one-man act from Tokyo that really manages to make it art.