Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REVIEW: Shugo Tokumaru - Port Entropy

Shugo Tokumaru - Port Entropy

Shugo Tokumaru is a Japanese multi-instrumentalist, but more than that, he’s an introspective conductor. On his fourth full-length, Port Entropy, this is made abundantly clear. His playful, animated arrangements provide a window into a mind that is brimming with a hive of musical notes just waiting to be formulated and expressed through the adept hands of Tokumaru. On this latest album, he once again assumes total control of every instrument to craft something that is both personal and universal in its accessibility.

With standouts like “Tracking Elevator" and “Straw,” Tokumaru easily impresses with his technical prowess. More than that, even with an obvious knack for playing multiple instruments with great skill, he is able to write songs that have distinct melody and significant depth. Without being overly sentimental or dramatic, Tokumaru uses an undertow of nostalgia – the real hook here. Whether or not you speak Japanese is irrelevant for how strongly Port Entropy gently alludes to the past. It’s an album that instills a sense of excited fascination, a return to a time where your world outlook was filled with an immortal optimism for what was possible – when you were infinitely youthful.

Port Entropy is defined by an undeniable feeling of happiness, one that appears nearly relentless. “Linne” is a beautiful, delicate piano ballad and just happens to be the album’s only mellow song. “Rum Hee” begins with bright acoustic guitars and ambient sounds that must have come straight out of a Disney movie, but the song eventually powers up to a chorus propelled by understated, distorted electric guitar. “Straw” runs on deft acoustic guitar riffs, displaying Tokumaru’s incredible agility on a guitar fretboard. Album closer “Malerina” uses traditional sounding Japanese instruments and a ukulele for a fitting tropical conclusion to an incredibly sunshine-filled long-player.

The only true drawback of the album is that Tokumaru’s instrumentation often outweighs any power his vocals might possess. The interest lies more in what he is capable of building with layers of acoustic guitars, xylophone, theremin, synthesizers, percussion, and whatever other instrument he can get his hands on. It’s not that his vocals are lost behind the music, but they tend to be overshadowed by the dazzling, intertwining riffs and melodies. In a way, Tokumaru’s voice is more a thread to weave everything together, something that can work as both an advantage and disadvantage.

Overall, Port Entropy is smart and intricate without losing a sense of space or direction. With an inward inflection, he proves that music is a language we all can speak, no matter where we’re from or how old we are. By crossing the infectiousness of j-pop with the experimentalism of avant pop, Shugo Tokumaru defies specific classification by creating something entirely his own that is equally satisfying and intriguing with his symphony of instrumental eclecticism. And with songs like “Tracking Elevator” and “Lahaha,” Port Entropy is like a heavy shot of dopamine – it’s bound to bring you cheer.

MP3: Shugo Tokumaru - "Lahaha"

BUY: Port Entropy is out now overseas and receives its U.S. release via Polyvinyl on February 15th. Pre-order it here and receive an immediate digital download of the album.

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