From the time his Japanese / US debut Night Piece began to receive rare but rave reviews in 2004 to his second album, L.S.T's slightly more international 2006 release on New Zealand's Lil Chief Records (The Brunettes, The Ruby Suns), Shugo Tokumaru has largely remained a mystery of sorts. Now, with his recent (and first celebrated) US appearance at the Mercury Lounge and the release of his newest, Exit, on Almost Gold, he is being recognized more and more as a sort of wunderkind every day.

Exit is in itself an excellent reason why this is so. Here, Tokumaru has created a fairytale circus in its own right, from the delicate tiny bells that open the album on "Parachute" to the wild and weird alt-country leanings of the closing track "Wedding." There's no shortage of interesting sounds and new instruments to pick up on throughout the work.

That Tokumaru is a Japanese singer makes his soft, sweet vocals even more of an instrument in their own right. For an international audience that will generally not pick up on meaning, his sense of lyrical rhythm complements the musical menagerie in a soothing way. A soft croon, a jangling guitar, and handclaps keeping time on "Sanagachi" turn it into a lovely sleeper of a song; elsewhere, a more frenetic and distorted sound on "D.P.O." practically invites the clowns to come in.

What is trickiest about putting Exit's appeal into words is that underlying its incredible depth and variance is a gentle core. Where most albums with this number of instruments have a tendency to call for chaos, Tokumaru excels at the quiet and beautiful. From banjos to recorders to melodicas to tiny lilting bells, Exit is a beautiful soundtrack for the imagination, and we're lucky to have him finally making his way Stateside.

Shugo Tokumaru
Almost Gold