Review: Shugo Tokumaru – Exit

Posted in Music, Review by jukeboxparables on March 11, 2009


So I was tallying up a score for this album and thought to myself, Oh my is it really that good? So I went back and tried to fault it, again and again but failed. The goal of most album reviews is to dissect an album and strenuously try to put how great (or bad) it is into words that convey the actual output of the sound qualitatively.

Fifteen seconds of the first track and you will know exactly what this album is about. It’s zany, in your face, bizarre circus-style Japanese Folk music and I love every second of it. No over the top in-depth stern talking to required on my part.

Shugo Tokumaru is definitely not a house-hold name to most. Though the young Japanese artist has been releasing music since 2004. This, his latest offering was released in Japan back in 2007 but us gaijins didn’t get it until September 2008.

Exit is a lesson in Indie-Pop-Folk. It’s sung entirely in Japanese, normally foreign albums tend to be grating and quickly lose their novelty but that’s not the case here; I’d happily place Exit amongst my best albums of 2008. The opening track “Parachute” sets you off down an Anime inspired skip and hop through the backstreets of Tokyo whilst warm dazzling lights eventually knock you over and then your falling; out of a plane; towards the city; you spot a circus tent and it breaks your fall. You’ve hit your head and you shake it off and try and come to your senses but track2 “Green Rain” grabs you and shakes you back to your odd dazzling adventure.

The actual music is by no means standardized, the chord progressions of various layered instruments such as: piano, acoustic guitar, drums, synths, flutes and any number of other devices create a brilliant texture of borderline horror-movie insanity but instead of making you feel ostracized as if on a certain illicit substance plagued by paranoia you feel a certain warmth. It’s infectious and catchy yet complex but subtle.

Shugo apparently bases his songs off a dream journal. This explains a lot. After subsequent listens of Exit you feel distinctly that if that vivid colourful dream you had last night had audio; this would be it’s soundtrack.

This album is east meets west in a way also. Traditional Japanese movements are mixed with Indie-pop rhythms. It’s a bit of everything without leaning too much in one direction to be easily pigeon holed. Comparisons could be made with fellow Japanese artist Cornelius, at least when tracks swing over to the electronic side of things more-so than usual. Shugo himself however claims influence on this album came from Japanese Pop and a pile of old Beatles cassettes. No doubt that analog sound of those cassettes transfused themselves onto Exit.

I’ve already mentioned that this is sung entirely in Japanese, no track better illustrates how much the language barrier is broken by this album than the sing-along “Button” You’ll be singing “Hey yay yay” in no time, even though I’m almost certain that is not what is being said. It somehow doesn’t matter though. This album let’s you go with the flow.

Things get minimalist on “La La Radio” and you get the feeling Sigur Ros is being channeled. A banjo with a traditional Japanese instrument and xylophone? Perfection! Up to 50 different instruments were used on this album along with household items such as cutlery, an ashtray, a doorbell and wind-up toys.

I wish I had a list of translated lyrics so I could comment on lyrical prose but It just doesn’t even matter. To say that it breaks those barriers is an understatement. If there’s a bad point to this album besides it possibly being Schizophrenia inducing (You lose contact with reality, forget your name and perhaps even forget where you are) Is that it’s so solid it’s hard to go back and pick a stand-out track and say I want to put that on repeat. It’s 4stars across the board, all tracks have that special something.

Subsequently, this all adds up to an album with that special something. It’s even more special when you come to realise Shugo produced the album himself on his own laptop.

Rating: 8.3/10


1. “Parachute” – 3:04
2. “Green Rain” – 4:53
3. “Clocca” – 3:27
4. “Future Umbrella” – 2:04
5. “Button” – 4:02
6. “Sanganichi” – 2:37
7. “D.P.O” – 1:51
8. “Hidamari” – 4:37
9. “La La Radio” – 5:28
10. “Wedding” – 3:16

Shugo Tokumaru
Released: 2008
Label: Almost Gold Records


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