Shugo Tokumaru: Port Entropy

Mehan Jayasuriya

On his fourth LP, Shugo Tokumaru's jubilant bedroom pop proves to be a bit too much of a good thing.

Shugo Tokumaru

Port Entropy

Label: Polyvinyl
US Release Date: 2011-02-15
UK Release Date: 2010-12-06

In the summer of 2006, I ducked into a small, subterranean club in Tokyo's Yoyogi neighborhood, excited to finally see one of my favorite new songwriters perform live. When I approached Shugo Tokumaru at the merch table, he seemed a bit taken aback. It was as if he couldn't comprehend how a foreigner might know of him, let alone attend one of his shows. The feeling of disbelief was more than mutual. How had a musician and songwriter of such obvious talent remained virtually unknown outside of his homeland for so long? Released in 2005, Tokumaru's L.S.T. felt in many ways like a Japanese counterpoint to so much of the indie-pop then making waves in America, namely the elaborate folk-pop of Sufjan Stevens and lo-fi constructions of Jens Lekman. As I told many friends in those days, had I run my own record label, my first order of business would have been to put out Tokumaru's albums stateside.

Seems like I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Five years later, Tokumaru's prospects here in America look very different. He finally has support from a sizable US label, he has toured the East Coast with the Magnetic Fields and has further plans to tour the US and Europe extensively in 2011. Back in his homeland, Tokumaru is now a top-selling artist, having reached a much wider audience after allowing Sony to use his 2009 single "Rum Hee" in a computer commercial. That same year, he sold out all 13 dates on his first Japanese tour, receiving a hero's welcome in cities where his albums hadn't even been available one year prior.

Still, as much as Tokumaru's situation has changed during the last few years, his songwriting hasn't strayed. While contemporaries like Stevens and Lekman have long since moved on, exploring electronic textures, sampling and orchestral compositions, Tokumaru's work remains firmly rooted in the gentle folk-pop aesthetic he first sketched out on 2004's Night Piece. Employing various stringed instruments (guitars, banjos, ukuleles, mandolins), toy pianos and bells sets, Tokumaru continues to sculpt twinkling, cheerful pop melodies with a painter's eye for detail. As accomplished as these compositions are, however, one has to wonder if indie-pop fans -- much like Tokumaru's contemporaries -- have since moved on?

To be fair, Tokumaru hasn't completely failed to evolve. Port Entropy finds the songwriter continuing to refine his sound, inching ever closer to pop's platonic ideal. While previous releases had a mildly experimental bent, dabbling in dissonance and non-linear song structures, Port Entropy largely jettisons such ideas, embracing more straightforward melodies and forms with an eye toward sonic maximalism. The end product is an unapologetically pretty, even precious, sometimes dazzling record. "Platform" slowly builds from a banjo-packing porch-sit into a clattering swarm of keys, strings and whistles. "Lahaha" is a sugar rush of manic guitar strums, driving percussion and joyous laughter. And "Rum Hee", Tokumaru's biggest Japanese hit to date, absolutely teems with life; an impeccably crafted three minutes of giddy pop bliss.

By its second half, Port Entropy starts to drag, the result of too many songs that draw from the same, limited emotional range. Stargazing, overly dense tracks like "River Low", "Drive-Thru" and "Suisha" crowd the album's midsection, overwhelming the listener as they tilt the balance a bit too far toward the children's section. That's a shame because as a few of the songs here demonstrate, Tokumaru is fully capable of writing with poignancy and depth. "Linne" stands as Port Entropy's most striking cut, a spare lament that finds the songwriter alone at the piano until halfway through, when wisps of spectral singing saw begin to creep in at the song's edges. The equally hushed "Orange" adds a vaguely sinister dimension to Tokumaru's sound, employing an out-of-tune toy piano and wheezing accordion to craft what sounds like a funeral dirge played on dusty antiques.

While Port Entropy contains some of Tokumaru's most accomplished compositions yet, on the whole, it's a bit too monochrome for its own good. Though only 37-minutes long, the album starts to feel tedious before reaching its conclusion, its songs bleeding together in a saccharine haze. This is especially disappointing when one considers Port Entropy alongside Dustin Wong's recent LP, Infinite Love, which in some ways, feels indebted to Tokumaru's frantic delivery and six-string prowess. Despite the fact that it's wholly instrumental and far more stripped down--Wong's songs are built mostly from guitar loops--Infinite Love manages to feel more dynamic by a mile. In this case, it's Wong's willingness to draw from a richer emotional palette that keeps things engaging, capturing the listener's attention even without aid of lyrics or vocals. Perhaps there's a lesson in the comparison for Shugo Tokumaru: sometimes less really is more.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.