The Spinners

Exit (Shugo Tokumaru, 2007)

In Electronica, Folk, Japanese, Pop, Rex Baylon on April 12, 2010 at 5:48 am

Although flooded with all sorts of pop acts, the Japanese music industry has very few artists that can claim both critical and mass appeal. Labeled by many as the only Japanese musician that mattered in the Aughts, Shugo Tokumaru’s experimental style bridges the gap between avant-garde and confectionary pop. As a multi-instrumentalist, Tokumaru embraces the disparate elements of folk, rock, electronica, and pop; and melds them into something that sounds wholly familiar but still retains the spirit of re-invention.

In his third album, Exit, Tokumaru takes on the task of being a fifty-man band and accomplishes the impossible: he creates a pop masterpiece. One can’t help but smile while listening to Exit. The album is not some dour avant-garde exercise but rather a Pollyanna-ish concerto divided into ten separate orchestral pieces. Tokumaru steps into Brian Wilson’s shoes and experiments with the symphonic sensibilities of the pop song by punctuating each track with the commonplace sounds of the everyday; and in the process, he infuses the songs with a life of their own.

Each of the ten tracks in Exit breathes with its own unique idiosyncrasies, as though each song continues to play as the next track begins. Also, what’s refreshing about Tokumaru’s style is that although many in the American press have compared him to a Japanese Sufjan Stevens or Owen Pallett, Tokumaru’s music eschews the cliché arguments of Western vs. Asian musical influences. He is not some Japanese artist clumsily trying some Western style. Tokumaru’s music transcends such limiting definitions; like all good music, his songs obliterate cultural boundaries.

Although many listeners may be turned off by the fact that all the songs are written in Japanese, I suggest that these people should get over their biases. Exit is one of a handful of albums released during the Aughts that will outlive the social milieu that gave birth to it. Shugo Tokumaru is an unparalleled genius and those who ignore his contributions are doing so at their own peril.

– Rex Baylon

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