In Focus? by Shugo Tokumaru
The album at #6 came out towards the end of 2012 in Japan, but not until January 22, 2013 in the U.S. In Focus?, from Shugo Tokumaru, wins my award for Most Listened-To Album in 2013. It is sheer bliss, in musical form. Tokumaru’s fifth official full-length album, In Focus? is my first experience with the artist.
According to what I’ve read online, Tokumaru is a wunderkind similar to Prince. He writes, performs, records and mixes all of his own music. The album reminds me quite a bit — again — of Sufjan Stevens. Whenever recommending Tokumaru to friends, I would sum him up by calling him “The Japanese Sufjan Stevens.” He has a mastery of the strange and unexpected. In Focus? is chock full of whimsy, giving the listener an almost uncanny sense of musical serendipity upon each listen.
As Tokumaru sings in Japanese, this album has the added benefit of not being too distracting to listen to when trying to write (usually an impossible task for any album with someone singing). This also makes for strange car karaoke, where you find yourself attempting to sing along to Tokumaru’s Japanese by simply mimicking the sounds he is making. I’m positive this would sound horrible to anyone who speaks the language. This became especially problematic when I saw Tokumaru at the Sunset on July 16. I like to sing along with performers when I know the words (but I don’t shout over the performer). But for Tokumaru, I felt 100% self-conscious of sounding like the charlatan that I am, which prevented me from singing at all.
The live show itself, however, was unbelievable. Tokumaru had four other people on stage with him (and one off stage, on the floor, as the stage was not large enough): a bassist, a wild-man drummer and three percussionist / keyboard / backup singers who played all manner of instruments and toys, whirligigs and noisemakers. It was a truly happy show, and my cheeks hurt at the end of it. (You can get a glimpse of what that experience was like by watching this KEXP In Studio Performance from the same day.)
The above video, for the lively song “Katachi,” is featuring on the Bacon Review for the second time. It’s so good, I’ve posted it twice. He also has another video from this album, for the song “Decorate,” which I featured in these pages back in December of 2012. Be sure to watch that one as well.
I would like more people to know and love Tokumaru, but only if it means I can continue to see him in venues as tiny at the Sunset. I know this is an impossible request, so, therefore, please listen, enjoy, and do NOT under any circumstances plan on seeing him live.
Thank you very much.
7. Psychic by Darkside
8. AMOK by Atoms for Peace
9. White Lighter by Typhoon
10. Hummingbird by Local Natives
11. If You Leave by Daughter
12. Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit
13. The Silver Gymnasium by Okkervil River
14. The Next Day by David Bowie
15. Reflektor by Arcade Fire
16. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic by Foxygen
17. Lanters by Son Lux
18. Howlin’ by Jagwar Ma
19. Impersonator by Majical Cloudz
20. Dream Cave by Cloud Control
21. Mole City by Quasi
22. Phantogram by Phantogram
23. Julia With Blue Jeans On by Moonface
24. Uncanney Valley by The Dismemberment Plan
25. Event II by Deltron 3030
26. Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello and The Roots
27. Us Alone by Hayden
28. Pure Heroine by Lorde
29. Shaking the Habitual by The Knife
30. False Idols by Tricky
31. Let’s Be Still by The Head and the Heart