TOSS | Shugo Tokumaru

It can be easy to classify music as a binary between ‘experimental’ and ‘accessible.’ The natural assumption is that experimentation requires a departure from widespread appeal. Shugo Tokumaru, who was featured on Monster Bunker #12, seems to see this as a personal challenge. Tokumaru’s sixth album, TOSS, carefully balances completely unhinged strangeness with fun and loose composition that provides an easy entry point for just about anyone. The album acts like a high-speed merry-go-round, always threatening to throw the listener off while providing firm support to make sure that never happens. TOSS is the definition of unafraid: unafraid to be dense and discordant, unafraid to be sparse and gentle, and unafraid to wander between the two.

Tokumaru delivers energy like you’ve never seen before, throwing in just about every sound you can imagine. I couldn’t begin to count how many instruments are in use throughout​ “Lita-Ruta,” and I don’t think it’s wise to try. Horn sections, rock instruments, folk instruments, and toys are fair game; and each and every one is used to brilliant effect. The song’s driving bass line slips and slides like the bassist is struggling to keep his balance, but never once does it clash with the dense arrangement surrounding it. Wilder still is the closing track “Bricolage Music,” which builds off of a collage of split second sound effects and samples to form a shockingly inviting sound. Perhaps the strangest part of the entire affair is how gentle and melodic Tokumaru’s vocals remain throughout the entire album. It doesn’t matter that it sounds as though the horn section has just fallen down the stairs in “Taxi,” Tokumaru keeps singing with a soothing sweetness in his voice. It seems like the kind of thing that would clash with the atmosphere of these songs, but never once does it feel out of place.

The clean and gentle vocals feel even more appropriate on the album’s lighter tracks, of which there are several. “Route is a surprisingly straightforward piano ballad, albeit a very good one. Consisting almost entirely of piano and Tokumaru’s voice, it would be easy to assume the track wouldn’t stand out well against the intense tracks around it; but even this simple arrangement is handled masterfully. In fact, that same simplicity helps it shine as a unique moment for the album. “Dody and “Migiri become simpler still, consisting largely of acoustic guitar lines, with the former being instrumental and the latter containing some of the gentlest vocals on the entire album. Both songs manage a balance between highly technical musicianship and gentle atmosphere, allowing the listener a choice between listening intently to every detail, or relaxing completely and going along with whatever happens. It’s hard to find music this effortlessly gorgeous.

It wouldn’t be hard to keep gushing praise for this album for another few paragraphs, but that might actually ruin the fun. There are so many weird and wonderful surprises throughout this album that it’s probably best to just give it a listen and discover them all yourself. If you’re looking for fun and whimsical new music that will challenge your ears without giving you a headache, you absolutely cannot go wrong with TOSS. LOVE IT.


Reframe EP | Flicker Rate

The early EPs of any project are always fascinating, providing insight into how exactly an artist finds their footing. Featured on this week’s Monster Bunker, Flicker Rate is a one man instrumental post / math rock project, devised and played entirely by 17-year-old Spencer Bassett. Reframe is only the second EP released by the band, so it’s still early days for Flicker Rate. This is somewhat evident in the material itself; there is a bit of an absence of polish, where some of the songs feel like they need a little more work to truly be finished; and there’s definitely a jarring leap in quality around halfway through. That being said, there’s still plenty to like on Reframe; and at less than 18 minutes in length, it’s short enough that there’s little excuse not to give it a chance.

The back half of the EP contains by far its strongest material, which is an unusual decision. Leading with weaker material is rarely a good idea. That second half really is worth it though. “Spectrum is just a delight to listen to, dancing effortlessly from one tight groove to the next. The whole song starts to wash over the listener in this wonderfully entertaining way, and it’s over and out before you know it. I’d be surprised if you told me that Flicker Rate was entirely unfamiliar with Scale the Summit, because “Spectrum” feels like a commendable attempt at capturing their sound. “Airspace,” though possibly not as much fun as “Spectrum,” is still just as polished, with each riff dovetailing nicely into the next. The song builds up energy and momentum, starting simple and introducing increasingly complex melodic ideas without ever leaving the listener behind. It’s also worth noting how good this EP sounds; the whole thing was recorded in a bedroom over the course of a summer, but it sure doesn’t sound like it. I’ve heard albums produced in professional studios that sound much worse than this, and the strongest material is given plenty of room to shine without ever being hampered by the production.

Annoyingly, however, we don’t start with the strongest material. The EP’s opener and title track, “Reframe,” is oddly restrained. We start with only the drums and the bass, on top of which layers of guitar are put on…and then taken back off again. There’s very little lateral movement throughout the track; instead, content builds straight up and then comes right back down again. What’s there isn’t bad, but it could definitely use some more work. Odder still is “Summit,” which is, functionally, two songs. I mean that pretty literally; on first listen, I was genuinely fooled into thinking the song had ended around halfway through. It’s two halves, one heavy and one more ambient, with both having the same problem. Despite perfectly good ideas in terms of riffs and composition, those riffs overstay their welcome until they’re no longer interesting. “Summit” could have been a much better song if certain parts were allowed to more freely collide with the harsher parts slicing in and out of the more ambient melodies. To be clear, neither of the first two songs are particularly bad, but neither of them are particularly compelling either.

Reframe shows an incredible amount of promise, and even its worst tracks are still pretty good, with an abundance of excellent ideas that would only need a small amount of work to become truly compelling. This EP is definitely worth a listen all on its own, and it would be a mistake not to keep an eye on Flicker Rate and Spencer Bassett from here on out. OK.

Jazz, Metal, Reviews, Rock

The Further Side | Nova Collective

Sometimes, you encounter a band that changes how you think about music. You’ll encounter a group that shows you a new perspective, or presents you with something you’ve never encountered before. You may not necessarily enjoy what you hear, but you leave with new ideas on what music can be. Though, sometimes you do enjoy bands like that. Like, way too much, in fact. And sometimes one of those bands is avant-garde jazz fusion trio Trioscapes, and sometimes two thirds of that group join up with two members (one past, one present) of progressive metal band Haken to create an entirely new group that also completely changes how you think about music.

This is getting less and less hypothetical, but what I’m trying to say is, this was essentially tailor made for me.

Nova Collective’s The Further Side is an incredibly promising album for a band to lead off with. Blending together elements of jazz fusion, prog rock, and metal, The Further Side is 48 minutes of meticulously crafted, genre-defying magic. Though the influence of Dan Briggs’ compositional style is obvious, this isn’t just more Trioscapes, now without saxophone but with keyboard and guitar. This is a whole new animal, effortlessly blending together the creativity of multiple artists without the cracks ever becoming obvious. I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy The Further Side, but I can guarantee that you will never find anything else quite like it.

Songs like “Cascades” prove that this bizarre concept works beautifully. Effortlessly combining lush instrumentation with complicated riffs, you’re immediately presented with an atmosphere that is entirely unique. I genuinely find it hard to describe just how gorgeous this song sounds; building off a foundation of gentle keyboards, hard rock guitars, and flawless timing, the song flirts with progressive rock, smooth jazz, and mixtures of the two. There’s almost certainly no reason this should work, let alone as well as it does, but every moment of the song proves that this is a winning formula.

Ripped Apart and Reassembled” is just plain fun. Some of the soundfont choices made call to mind a video game soundtrack from the era of the N64 or the Dreamcast, but in my opinion, that just adds to the charm. Blazing through shifts in tone and style, the song seems to be embodying its title, feeling like someone has cut up one or two different songs and stitched the pieces back together in whatever order felt right. It’s honestly hard to believe this is the shortest song on the album; Nova Collective manages to cram so much into a little less than 6 minutes. This was one of the songs released before the album was out, and after listening to it, I was certain I would enjoy this album. It’s one of the most enjoyably weird songs I’ve ever heard, and it absolutely deserves a listen.

Then there’s “State of Flux.” I don’t think I can do this song justice in a paragraph. Much like its name would imply, and in keeping with the rest of the album, the song goes through constant and rapid changes, adding up to one of the most satisfying prog metal songs I’ve ever heard. Clocking in just a little shy of 10 minutes, there’s far too much to even begin to unpack here. Just know that this is some of the tightest musicianship you will ever encounter, with each of the four constantly at the top of their game throughout a piece that changes moods over and over again. It’s one of the songs that makes the entire album worth listening to.

Nova Collective has wasted no time in proving their worth, and if we can expect more material of this caliber from the band in the future, I will be one happy listener. The Further Side is an unbelievably good first impression; it’s one of those albums that’s so thoroughly flawless that it almost makes me angry. Fans of Trioscapes will not be disappointed, and they’ll also find plenty of entirely new ideas within that keep it from being more of the same. This is a once in a lifetime kind of album, and I loved every second of it. LOVE IT.