Shugo Tokumaru L.S.T.

If you didn’t come across Shugo Tokumaru’s Night Piece in 2004, his second record will probably be a bit of a shock. Foremost because of how inventive, well written and arranged it is — how his soft, all-Japanese vocals soar over a richly textured musical palette, increasingly on par with more familiar musical auteurs like Jim O’Rourke or Jim Guthrie. Shugo performs and records every song and instrument you hear on this album, without so much as a sampler or sequencer to help him craft a diverse collection of art pop. As a whole, it’s not quite as playful or easily digestible as his debut, but instrumentals like "Karte” still offer some impressive light-heartedness, and elsewhere the rejuvenated focus pays off. Tokumaru’s hooks are stronger, his voice more adventurous and every song just an outstanding culmination of experimental subtlety and a pop sensibility that transcends any issue of language or culture. The biggest shock comes after you hear this pop juggernaut, though, when you remember that no one’s even signed the guy over here yet — that a musician this talented and prolific is still being kept from an adoring audience because of his location. I suppose we can make any number of excuses as to why that is, but with two nearly flawless records under his belt, exactly how great a record is this man going to have to make before more start paying attention? (MGM / Sony)