More than any musical reference, Japanese pop composer Shugo Tokumaru evokes a hypercolor cartoon version of those Wes Anderson single shot doll-house sequences: dazzlingly eccentric, meticulously precise miniature worlds pan across your brain, chirping birds and grinning bunnies flitting about. Simply put, this is some of the cutest stuff you’ll ever hear (barring the outside chance that these lyrics are dark, though I’d wager otherwise despite not speaking Japanese), and the child-like glee built in the thousands of layers of instrumentation on new disc In Focus? is kinetically infectious.
The nth-degree twee and intensely precise instrumentation work step for step with 2011′s Port Entropy, Tokumaru’s commercial breakthrough that jumped into Japan’s Top 40. That said, the hooks here don’t quite reach the blurred singalong heights of “Lahaha”. The skyward alarm clock click-clack of “Decorate” and the clap-step headrush “Katachi” come close, each providing a magical crateful of saccharine highs. Despite the insane number of audio tracks that must’ve been recorded for each song, the sources are certainly organic, save for a pitch-shifted backing vocal on the latter track, a rare moment of studio wizardry aiding Tokumaru’s homespun technicality.
The bossa nova groove of “Helictite” and the un-eerie Man Man angularity of “Down Down” throw wrenches into what otherwise could’ve shifted into a rhythmic rut. Though certainly a heart-wrenching ballad, the solo acoustic fingerpicking of “Tightrope” seems an odd choice to sit in the middle of a bunch of ultra-busy, over-the-top theatricality. Similarly, the brief interludes wedged between pop gems distract from the intricate pop melodies that Tokumaru puts under the microscope elsewhere. Perhaps that’s where the ? came from in the title, a few brief blips of simplicity on an otherwise dilated excess.
Essential Tracks: “Decorate”, “Katachi”