January 9, 2011

Sonic Kaleidoscope

Knowledge of music is often used as a currency of coolness in some circles. And the more obscure or eclectic a band or a genre the more value it has in some circles. Nothing worse than a band hitting it big and losing all value, because there is nothing worse than your favorite band being labeled mainstream to force you to foreclose your hipster residence in some circles.

Imagine the worth of say, a Japanese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who creates every aspect of his music, including the lyrics, music, arrangements, recording and mixing, through a variety of instruments, using over 100 different traditional and non-traditional instruments in his recordings.

“Me? I have been listening a lot to Shugo Tokumaru. He is a Japanese multi-instrumentalist who translates his dream journal into sounds, I mean music.”

Sounds good? Right?  But we must be careful not to judge Tokumaru by his obscurity or eclecticism. Sure it would do wonders for one’s indie-music-street-cred to introduce a friend to a Japanese songwriter who considers some of his influences to be The Beach Boys, older Japanese musicians such as Hachidai Nakamura, and traditional Japanese music styles, such as gagaku, but really the real value of Tokumaru is his music. One listen to his latest Port Entropy is enough to have any person serious about music digging through his back catalog looking for every last jewel he has ever produced.

Port Entropy is sonic kaleidoscope that transcends every dialectic split.  A blend of East meets West, each song is a whimsical tapestry that refuses to take itself seriously, but never becomes silly. At times sounding like a children’s story, it suddenly transforms into a spiraling composition dressed in a beautifully simple yet intricate gown. Tokumaru conducts a one-man orchestra of noise-makers, percussions, and stringed instruments, which gracefully float above the pounding bass and drum section like ethereal clouds leaving the listener unsure of whether they will pass or crash down like a storm.

Each song marches with a confident but not cocky masculinity, yet is carefully tempered by an equally graceful and natural femininity. Songs like Rum Hee at home both in spring joy or autumn reverie transcend season or mood. While Laminate breaks down into a Pepperland noise disintegration, it is quickly rebuilt into a haunting ballad created for wide open fields and wildflowers.

Songs like Drive Thru will leave the listener catching his/her breath. Built around a contagious chorus hook, a wild circus of sounds ensues forcing the listener to never completely let his/her guard down. Just as it seems like the album could not become any wilder, Suisha floats down with its subtle finger snapping percussion bridge. These are songs constructed for a journey. Where to? That is up to you.

Port Entropy is the Flaming Lips album Wayne Coyne has been trying to write for years, but unlike the most layered Lips song, Port Entropy never becomes weighed down by its own complexity. The myriad of sounds, rather than become too heavy by their own density, translate into catchy pop songs sung in a language that sounds foreign and familiar at the same time.  This is the music of dreams in so that it doesn’t make sense, but is comfortable in its chaotic unpredictability.

Tokumaru is a painter of sounds and Port Entropy is his collection of sonic masterpieces. This will quickly become one of your favorite albums. The music is simple enough to dance to, yet complex enough to invite hours of exploration.  Unlike other music tagged as experimental, this collection of songs will force your foot to tap and make you want to learn Japanese so you can sing along, or better still you will sing along in your brand of gibberish, your voice becoming just one more sound in the tapestry waving in the breeze.

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