The dual arts of sampling and plunderphonics are already mysterious, witchcraft-like talents. The ability to remix, chop and screw source material into a starkly different context separates the SoundCloud producers from the DJ Premiers and Vaporwave jokers from Oneohtrix Point Never. But what if you made it a bit harder for yourself? What if you went into the process nearly blind, relying on newly composed music and reshaped all of it to fit an ever-changing vision? There’s no previous context, just your own drive to make a listenable collage. That’s essentially what Shugo Tokumaru decided to do for TOSS and, improbably, he pulls it off with equal parts grace and kookiness.

The Tokyo-based guitarist/singer/composer has a giddy back catalog of music. He’s proficient in over 100 instruments and does nearly all of the arranging, recording and producing himself. But for TOSS, the Japanese savant wanted to try something more collaborative – only in the most obtuse way possible. Tokumaru asked friends of his to record short segments of music without knowing how they would be placed into each song. “I went into the studio without a single song and started from scratch to collect recordings,” said Tokumaru. “I got inspiration from such fragments and made a demo which started to look like a song.” Tokumaru made his own sample library and reconfigured it all into TOSS and it – somewhat impossibly – works.

The central gimmick is fascinating, but Tokumaru is careful to make sure that the sheer pleasure of the music comes first. He shows himself to be a consummate, flexible songwriter as TOSS wanders from lo-fi indie to folk ballads to classical interludes to ‘80s Japanese pop. It wouldn’t be cohesive if it weren’t for Tokumaru’s ability to keep the songs’ emotional centers intact. Most of that comes from the music he personally recorded for the album. Tokumaru’s voice is a light, fluttery thing, able to be zany and playful one moment and plaintive the next. The best example of this is found in the duo of “Taxi” and “Route.”

“Taxi” rides a funky horn line over a drunkenly swaying drum beat, with Tokumaru chanting and shouting overtop. It could have soundtracked any number of early 2000s Cartoon Network shows, relying on the song’s propulsive energy and shifting texture to captivate. “Route” is the diametric opposite, a longing piano ballad with Tokumaru giving one of his best vocal performances. You can nearly hear the tear in his voice as he reaches toward its upper range, only the piano there to comfort him. Similarly, the lovely classical guitar solo of “Dody” is followed by the slinky pseudo-jazz of “Hollow.”

TOSS, with its polymath tendencies, is liable to create mood whiplash, but that’s just the world you have to inhabit while visiting a Tokumaru record. Put simply, the best way to enjoy TOSS is to surrender yourself to its whacky internal logic. It’s at its weirdest and best when fully indulging in Tokumaru’s musical experimentation and all the strangeness that comes with it.

The focal point of it all comes on the delightfully odd “Cheese Wheel.” Here Tokumaru’s dulcet tones are nowhere to be found. Instead it’s a chamber overture in the mood of the maddest of Looney Toons shorts. Horns blare from every direction, strings jitter and fret, while woodwinds join the party at random. It is incomprehensible on the first few listens, but that’s the point: It’s meant to discombobulate, like everything else on TOSS. With his bewildering process and child-like sense of structure, Tokumaru creates something that’s meant to poke at the imagination and emotion rather than relying on any firmly set logic. And because of this, it’s a wonderful place to get lost in.

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