It’s no real surprise that, when stateside, Japanese artist Shugo Tokumaru tours with some of the most skilled musicians Western music has to offer. He’s toured as part of the Magnetic Fields, and assembled his own backing band with members of the National and Beirut. So not only does he tour with these guys, but he also commands enough respect to get them to gladly play behind him.
Of course, when you hear the records, no wonder fellow musicians respect the guy. Tokumaru records every part of his albums himself, but you’d be hard-pressed to call the lush, intricate results bedroom-pop. Port Entropy continues his run of off-kilter, mad-professor pop, while offering a new angle to his frenetic orchestral pop. All his record — but in particular the excellent L.S.T. — are made up of restless sounds. Songs can’t sit still as Tokumaru’s menagerie of instruments often turn sharply, shifting tone, time signature, and mood. That exhilarating edge is toned down on Port Entropy, and while it makes for a record with less thrills, the trade off is a more unified record.
The songs just seem to be a bit more patient than before. The acoustic guitars on “Tracking Elevator” ring calmly, even as Tokumaru’s voice rises and falls sharply. “Laminate” stumbles around slowly, even drunkenly, but ends with a subtly triumphant coda.The world the album establishes builds slowly, but sturdily, so we can almost anticipate what’s coming.
Of course, after “Laminate” fades out, a snippet of swirling circus music bursts to life, so there’s still a taste of Tokumaru’s playful side on Port Entropy. He also knows when to whip his songs up into a rollicking tangle of sound — see the dusty roll of “Straw” or the dreamy plink-and-plunk of “Lahaha”. But even with those shifts, each piece knits with the next, and the record seems less disjointed as a result. For every pop-freakout, there’s a moment of reflection. “Linne” may be the biggest surprise here, but only because it’s the most unassuming track on the record. It’s mostly just Tokumaru’s voice and piano and little else. The song, built on a simple riff, clears away the layers to reveal Tokumaru as more than just a studio noodler. Turns out he’s also an arresting, emotive performer in his own right.
So sure, the surprises and bubbling energy may have toned down a bit on Port Entropy, but that doesn’t make it any less striking as a pop record. Frankly, Tokumaru has already shown us the most intricate of his playing, and composing, so how could more sharp angles and quick cuts surprise us? Instead, on the new record, what will catch you is how Tokumaru lays out a map for you, leading you through these songs. You won’t catch every note, every shift — he’s never that transparent. But there’s a welcoming feel to this record that makes it resonate longer than any jarring shift could.