The decision by Japanese indie-popster Shugo Tokumaru to attach a question mark to the title of his fifth album, In Focus?, is an interesting one. Given that Tokumaru produced In Focus? in a state of studio isolation – including extended periods of time without sleeping or eating – the fact that he'd choose to instantly debase any assertions of artistic clarity implied by the record's title with a single piece of punctuation feels like a case of musical mixed signals. Confusion, though, feels perfectly in keeping with Tokumaru's music. The songs on In Focus? frequently veer off to unexpected places, never happy to stay in one mood or timbre for too long. Across the course of 15 sprawling, ever-shifting tracks, it feels safe to say In Focus? is pretty damn far from being, well, focused.

Opening on the breezy – and appropriately cyclical – guitar loops of 'Circle', In Focus? begins promisingly enough; Tokumaru, singing in his native Japanese, exudes a wistfulness that transcends any lingual boundaries, and everything feels status quo. It's on the album's second track, 'Katachi', where things start to take a turn for the sickly, however. Bearing in mind Tokumaru's penchant for producing some of the most bizarre indie-pop this side of an of Montreal outtakes compilation, you can certainly forgive him for 'Katachi''s squelchy synths and overriding sense of vomit-inducing twee. The track's grossly pitch-shifted backing vocals, however, are a step too far. They manage the rather impressive – given the circumstances, at least – feat of sounding like missing studio tracks from O-Zone's 'Numa Numa', and if that doesn't tell you how across the border into cringe-inducing territory 'Katachi' actually is, then nothing will. It's an early stumble that the album rarely recovers from.

That's not to say In Focus? doesn't have some, however fleeting, moments of glorious clarity, though; they just seem to occur when Tokumaru tones down on the zaniness for a second, stops huffing pixie dust and reverts back to the nuance and emotion with which he opened the record on 'Circle'. The mellow, sliding guitars and gently pattering percussion of 'Ord Gate' or the delicate, fingerpicked 'Tightrope' are undisputedly the most memorable moments on offer here, and yet they're sadly in the minority. Tokumaru instead chooses to shout – figuratively, at least – where a more restrained approach would've been a far more profitable avenue for exploration.

Possibly the biggest detriment to In Focus? is that when Tokumaru goes all out – be it structurally, sonically or, as is often the case, both – he still fails to hit home with the resonance or catchiness of 2010's wonderful Port Entropy; a record that felt far less crowded and overcooked. Rarely does he produce a melody that matches the hugely infectious pomp of Entropy's 'Lahaha' and the big-hitters here – 'Katachi', 'Decorate', 'Call' – are infinitely less replayable, quickly succumbing to sounding mundane on repeat listens.

Where Tokumaru's previous releases have breezed along nicely on a sense of whimsy rooted equally in melancholia and ecstasy, In Focus? feels dominated by an over-exuberance that is especially hard to relate to when taking into consideration the artistic strife and isolation that went into producing it. Perhaps in a post-Bon Iver landscape, it's hard not to be suckered in by claims of an album being recorded in a situation of loneliness and single-minded focus. Whatever the context of its production though, In Focus? lacks a certain profundity that – whether rooted in sadness or happiness – is sorely needed to save it from the emotional grey area in which it finds itself; something to keep us coming back, interested, and, dare I say it, focused. Perhaps that question mark was necessary, after all.