Shugo Tokumaru

Rum Hee EP

(Blues Interactions, Inc.; 2009)

By Dom Sinacola | 7 April 2009

Three and a half minutes into Oorutaichi’s manic take on the titular track all of the squelching acoustic half-thoughts and play-doh detritus sucks out and a cathedral-ready din swarms in. Shugo Tokumaru’s tiny voice is shoved with two fingers back into his nose; harmonizing’s attempted, some precious bells made to permeate, but the white noise coyly reprimands anything Shugo considers—and for once, after three full-length albums, a rising profile in Japan, and signing to Columbia, the artist doesn’t seem totally in control. While exhilarating, it marks something new for his music; as in the climax of Deerhoof’s remix where a smear of mournful guitar licks suddenly seems so knowing, this is a clear point for Shugo to go to.

At its simplest Rum Hee does what EPs do best, gilding a few indelible steps forward for the artist with a few steps to the side, slapping the same countenance on brand new material and tour curios alike in an effort to…what? Validate the product? Rum Hee is sold with a DVD of live performances and packaged as a wonderfully mature item, but unless you consider the milquetoast of Night Piece (2004) fronting a band with sometimes skittery abandon to be something yet unrealized, the accompanying performances do little to confirm what the music can’t. No, 2007’s Exit assured Shugo’s ascension as one of a careful but wide-eyed synthesis of clamoring pop parts, and, if anything, “Rum Hee” and “Alaska” continue in that vein, both mellifluous caterpillars, greasy accordions of strings, organs, and assorted tweeting glut. Though nothing close to a surprise, who doesn’t want to adore a little more Shugo?

The real revelation behind Rum Hee is only conceptualized in the EP as a whole: in the way Oorutaichi can’t wait to mutilate the single into its logically disjointed nodes; in the way Deerhoof atypically squeezes Shugo’s glee into campfire banter, limiting his cosmic grasp to the immediate width of his, I’d imagine and commiserate with, tiny hand. Less a pedantic pie chart of what it means to be Shugo Tokumaru, Rum Hee acts the brisk choose-your-own adventure for an already expectedly adventurous songwriter. “Vista,” from L.S.T. (2005), could have been this organic and tempered, he implies, and “Parachute” similarly indentured by such a strong, empirical chorus; in turn, every remix and alternative take here chimes in on the broader picture of the Japanese sensation, removing the sensationalism from his glowing music by trying to inventory the parts but mostly just succeeding in preserving the guy’s innocent glare and, by all means, giving him his songs back.

Shugo, in on all this, names his latest Rum Hee. I think Craig was trying to get at what the artist now blatantly declares: consistently removed from any sort of dependable release schedule in the US, a huge faction of Shugo fans can only indulge the sound of his ecstasy, imagining oneiric language and chthonic metaphors as if obliged to, and what in our shallow skulls is just gibberish can better reach, we believe, something more instinctual than anything translated literally. And while one gets the feeling that the EP at times gropes a bit too readily for relevance, the overall impression is that, for every obviously limned aspect of Shugo’s persona, something truly whole is in our possession—not the EP itself but the artist, pocked and pulsing with identity congealing and starting to make sense.