Shugo Tokumaru: In Focus?

Whena0280668842_10 I first put Shugo Tokumaru‘s In Focus? on my iPod, the sun was already out and the weather was unusually warm for an early December afternoon in Chicago. As I listened, I felt myself transported back to my green pick-up truck in northern Virginia- I was going somewhere, most likely driving south down I-95, and I wasn’t alone either. By the time the first track had crescendoed into the next, my friends from high-school were in the back seat laughing and joking, looking forward to a weekend away from the suburbs, from the monotony of our lives at home with our parents. The cymbal crashes and then we’re there, at that iconic summer home we never had, tossing a frisbee as we all walk to the beach, enjoying the kind of fun that over the years becomes a nostalgic moment you wish was never lost.

But something is off—this doesn’t feel like Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks. I must be on a beach in Bahia, but since when did Brazilians sing in Japanese? And what’s up with this bizarre, eclectic acoustic instrumentation they’re using now in their contemporary folk music? Somebody, please tell me what kind of string instruments that guy is playing. Is that a theremin I’m hearing? What’s going on?! Suddenly the frisbee flies my way and I catch it, instantly forgetting why there needs to be a reason for enjoying these surreal, yet somehow familiar scenes.

The album finished just before I got to my first class of the day, and the feeling of having returned from a mini-vacation was still lingering. I realized it was those lush major chords played by an almost unrecognizable blend of instruments, and when they’re followed by that final minor harmony—oh, how it makes me melt. It’s been a while since I heard an album like this, one that was so fun and lively, and not to mention experimental; there’s meter changes and tempo shifts all over the place. If you like dancing in 5/4, this one’s for you. However, the most refreshing aspect, and the one thing I really appreciate about Tokumaru’s composing style, is his use of chromaticism; it catches you off guard at the best moments in the music.

In Focus? is charged with the energy and good vibes to keep you nodding your head and smiling. Short tracks like ‘Mubyo’, and ‘Pah-Paka’ offer comedic respite from the longer, more scenic, driving movements. The fast pace of this album is seldom deviated by melancholy moments of drifting out to sea on one’s back, as one might while listening to ‘Tightrope’. Listen to it from beginning to end and let it take you wherever you’d like to be…9/10

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