Even if it weren't for Devendra Banhart, 2004 could rightly be called The Year of Folk. It seemed that every time I turned around there was another contender for "Most Forgettable Folk Derivative of 2004," jading me with its banality. Which, perhaps, is why this tiny little number by Shugo Tokumaru was such a refreshing discovery. In just 25 unassuming minutes and a nice, round, non-confrontational number of tracks, Tokumaru gives us more than we ever hope to expect from much longer efforts. Please forgive me for comparing it to a haiku.
Night Piece begins simply; crickets, wind chimes, and a gently strummed ukulele lead in to Tokumaru's slightly fey Japanese vocals. During the tick-tock staccato of an odd stringed instrument on the second track, "Light Chair," you might expect that the remaining eight tracks will follow the same template pretty closely, and that they're not about to fill any voids in your life: "Quirky Japanese folk, I get it." But the dark, circular texture of "Lantern on the Water" is enough to raise doubt and the beginning of a ceaselessly unpredictable series of interludes.
I use the word "interludes" because most of these songs are only about two minutes long and are so vastly different from one another that each seems like a distraction. But when everything is a distraction, what are we left with? It's impossible to pin down what this album is about. Tokumaru traverses lo-fi video game soundtracks, rattling Books-ish romps, trippy Black Foliage accents, shuffling '60s folk, and solemn, spare guitar pieces without ever establishing any foundation. This is simultaneously Night Piece's greatest strength and greatest weakness. Its charm lies in its elusiveness, each song dissolving more quickly than you are able to make sense of it, leaving you with an emptiness that is intentional but a bit too blunt. Still, in this way it can be said to be telescopic, harboring its mysteries between its fragments rather than nakedly whispering them.
1. Such a Color
2. Light Chair
3. Lantern on the Water
5. The Mop
10. A Kite of Night