Last week, wide-brim hat donning Los Angeles icon Jennifer Lee aka Tokimonsta released her sophomore LP Half Shadows on pop-oriented label Ultra Music. Since debuting her debut album Midnight Menu in 2010, Lee has been a touchstone for beat music and when you press play on Half Shadows (streaming courtesy of Noisey), you’ll know you’re listening to Tokimonsta. The mix of fluid movement, dreamlike atmosphere and swaggedelic beat are unmistakable. Basically, the entire album is Tokimonsta reminding us why she rocks. While the opening track “The Center” is a bit safe, and there are a couple other instances of that restraint from really blowing minds throughout the album, there is a larger success here that renders the little disappointments irrelevant: Tokimonsta has succeeded in making songs.
From the delightfully weird “The Force” featuring Kool Keith to the lush, hypnotic “Green” featuring Andreya Triana, to the striking “Moon Rise” with Jesse Boykins, Half Shadows separates itself from other contemporary electronic albums that utilize vocals through a number of means. Instead of burying vocals deep in the mix, making them nearly unintelligible as an aesthetic, or compensating for what is all too often a lack of substance within the lyrics by manipulating them as “textures” (sorry Flying Lotus), Lee makes them shine with a clear and pristine quality so they can add an important layer of meaning to the song far beyond their acoustic quality. “Clean Slate” features frequent collaborator Gavin Turek and is a song about starting all over again if there’s a chance. In this light, the chords become hopeful, the drums become patient, and the production is clean, clean, clean. Furthermore, the ‘track’ follows the composition of the ‘song’, not the other way around. The drums go double time in the second half because it makes sense with the change in the vocals. Normally, all of this would be fairly obvious but in the context of electronic music, which is so often grid-based and repetitive, it is refreshing and demands multiple listens to recognize how the song’s beat and arrangement evolve with its vocals.
Hit the jump to read the full review…
Stream: Tokimonsta – “The Force” Feat. Kool Keith
In the single, “Go With It”, the sensibilities of Tokimonsta and electro pop sensation MNDR coalesce quite nicely into an anthemic earworm with a head nodding vibe that will appeal to fans of spacey hip hop and pop, a success in itself.
Tokimonsta herself sings on three songs, and although these are her more buried vocals, a close listen is warranted as you can really get lost in Jennifer’s voice and the accompanying melodic atmosphere on “Spilling Autumn”, “Sweet Williams”, and “Soul to Seoul”, the latter of which is the album’s standout track. From the dark choir sample to the slow but buoyant drum patterns, it lingers long after it’s over.
Stream: Tokimonsta – “Go With It” Feat. MNDR
At its best, Half Shadows is a work meant to be absorbed in the oldest/truest sense of the word. You know, like, listening to a lovers whisper, or listening to the wind in the trees. The album exhibits a melodic mastery and versatile production palette that few beat makers can trump and in making it, Tokimonsta positions herself to follow the path of a Hudson Mohawke-type by potentially adding her skills to more mainstream projects (the Skrillex tour and Ultra association certainly haven’t hurt this prospect). Has Lee made her magnum opus yet? No, but she’s certainly pushed herself into new creative territory and affirmed the trust we all had that she’s pushing electronic music into exciting new territories.
Tokimonsta’s Half Shadows is out now via Ultra Music. Get it here courtesy of iTunes.