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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

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As de facto matriarch of the beat scene, Tokimonsta has a lot of bass weight to support on those shoulders of hers. Of course, the South Gate native handles the responsibility with aplomb, constantly expanding her production resume and fine-tuning her DJ skills. Toki has been relatively quiet over the past few months, but yesterday we received “Sore”, a self-described “orchestral epic-ish beat” that ranges in tone from low rider gangster music to sci fi cinema. Hopefully this means Toki is getting back on her grind and releasing a new tape soon. If you give her a shout on Soundcloud, she might let loose a download of “Sore”, so yeah, give her a shout. She deserves it. Stream below.

Whatsgood blogworld, I hope everyone is having a beautiful weekend and enjoying the spring weather. For me, and probably alot of others reading this, it’s crunch time for finals. This means that I need to find the perfect mix to jam too while getting ready for finals. This mix changes throughout the course of the year and today I revisited one of my favorite mix’s of all time, Brainfeeder’s take over of BBC Radio 1 last year. The live set includes performances from Matthew David, Teebs, Flying Lotus, Austin Peralta (pictured above), TOKiMONSTA, Samiyam, and even Thundercat. I hope just seeing that list gets you thoroughly stoked. To add even more incentive, Austin Peralta (keys), Gene Coye (drums), and Thundercat (bass) do an amazing improve jazz set. These guys then collaborate with Flying Lotus to top off the end of the mix with style. Needless to say, this mix needed to be in our archives and accessible for our readers. You can stream the mix in it’s entirety below.

We’ve been fairly absent from the blog this week, because of various nature excursions and other computer time limitations. Luckily, we’re back now and ready to continue bringing you the phonk. Amid a hectic SXSW filled week, a large amount of new music was actually released, much of it from the hip hop world. As a result, we bring you this special edition Sounds From The Astral Plane as a summary of the week’s happenings.

Stream: Nas – “The Don” (Prod. Salaam Remi, Da Internz and Heavy D)

Nas never ceases to amaze me with his tenacity on the mix. Dude has been in the game for over 20 years, and while there will never be another Illmatic, Nasir will go down as one of, if not the greatest, rappers of all time. Following last year’s “Nasty,” a sickening tear over minimalist percussion, Nas brings us “The Don,” produced by Salaam Remi with a helping hand from Da Internz and the late Heavy D. I can imagine Nas turning on the radio, hearing “Work Out” for the millionth time, calling up Salaam and hitting the studio. This shit is gully.

Stream/Download: Sene – “Backboards” feat. Blu

Sene is one of those MC’s who everyone has heard of, but no one really thinks twice about. He’s worked extensively with Blu, but none if it has made waves like the latter’s collaborations with Exile, Fashawn and Mainframe. It might be time to give Sene a little respect. “Backboards,” conveniently featuring Blu, is downright beautiful, eliciting comparisons to The Visionaries. Also, Blu on a mastered track? Pretty unheard of over the past couple years. “Backboards” is off of Sene’s upcoming Brooklyknight album, dropping April 24 on Plug Research.

Download: Danny Brown – “Baseline”

There isn’t much to say about Danny Brown that hasn’t been said. Read this Passion of the Weiss post for details. “Baseline” is as minimalist as Brown gets, allowing the MC to get ugly with the rhymes. If glorified drug usage, misogyny, and one of the most unique flows in contemporary hip hop interests you, then download “Baseline” above.

Stream/Download: Tokimonsta – “Fame Boozer’s Lullaby” feat. Rucyl

Squeaky production from Toki and majestic vocals from Rucyl = chilled out bliss. Hopefully this is a sign that the wait for a followup to 2010’s Midnight Menu will soon be over.

Stream: Kirko Bangz – “Drank In My Cup” (Brenmar Remix)

Chicago DJ/producer Brenmar has publicly stated that one of his main goals is to get “people to hook up at the club.” This track will certainly do that. Brenmar ramps up the sex appeal for his take on Texas crooner Kirko Bangz’s “Drank In My Cup,” turning the syruppy original into a dance floor anthem. This is club music at its best.

Stream/Download: Pale – “Worst Job Of Good Luck”

“Worst Job Of Good luck” is off of London label Bullet Train Records’ Bullet Train Allstars compilation. It’s the  best track off the comp and features incredibly clean production from Pale mixed with some pitched down vocals. Nice minimalist cut right hurr.

Stream/Download: Dam-Funk – “Serious”

There is never a shortage of new material on Dam Funk’s Soundcloud page. It fells like every week or two, he throws a superb new cut on their as a free download. Dam plays all the instruments on “Serious,” a jazzy track with that trademark Dam Funk sound. It’s no surprise that Dam can meld his sound into a jazz aesthetic, but it is still damn impressive.

Stream: Nocando – “Miyamoto Musashi” (Produced by DNAEBeats)

Low End Theory is in Japan right now. Nocando released a song about legendart samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Sounds about right.

Download: Action Bronson – Blue Chips (Mixtape)

Action Bronson supplies the raps. Party Supplies supplies the beats. It’s fantastic. Oddly enough, the first track, “Pouches of Tuna” uses the same beat as the Sene’s track above. Not sure if Party Supplies made it, or what, but I have to say that the Sene version is better. Beyond that confusion, “Thug Love Story 2012” sounds like classic Ghostface-ish. That comparison is getting a little old at this point, but it’s just too hard to ignore on tracks like this. Download Blue Chips from DJ Booth above.

Watch: Nacho Picasso and Blue Sky Black Death – “Rammin”

More visuals from Lord of the Fly, this time for the grimy “Rammin.” If you can get over the overdone effects, this is a pretty enjoyable vid. This is what The Weeknd sees when he hits the club. Some real XO shit.

Photo from facebook

Ok, so this is only a pseudo live review, because my camera ran out of batteries, but you’ll just have to take my word on how great the show is. Last night, Tokimonsta headlined Low End Theory at The Airliner along with Nutrik and Co.fee sub-headlining. To make the event even more exciting, it was Toki’s birthday at midnight.  Headlining is a funny word for an event like Low End because it has connotations of a green room, pretentious guests, etc., but the artists at Low End are just fans when they’re not on stage, chilling at the bar, smoking stogy’s with friends outside, and mingling with the crowd. It still truly amazes me that musicians like Toki and FlyLo are so humble when they play in front of thousands at festivals on a weekly basis.

Anyway, after a few issues, we got into The Airliner around 11 just as Co.fee came on. I wasn’t too familiar with Co.fee prior to last night beyond his track on Gems Drops 2, but his set was a great start to the night. Mixing hard hitting bass tracks with hazy hip hop, Co.fee set the stage perfectly for Toki, and got a ton of new fans in the process. Next, resident DJ Nobody took the stage alongside Nocando in sinister style. Riling up the crowd in anticipation of midnight, Nobody dropped “Beamer, Benz, Or Bentley” and a couple other tracks that got the crowd chanting along.

As the witching hour neared, Toki made her way through the crowd and took the stage to a massive outpouring of love. Again, I truly wish I had my camera to give you a taste of how much the crowd adores Toki, but alas I fucked up. Anyways, Toki took the stage to raucous applause, and proceeded to absolutely wreck the next 45 minutes. Toki started off slow with a few melodic originals and vocal tracks, taking a brief break at 12 for a rendition of “happy birthday,” before kicking the night into high gear. Toki is one of those DJ’s that is so skilled that she almost lulls you into a trance and then all of a sudden you realize you’re dancing your ass off. The peak of the set came when she dropped three of my absolute favorite tracks of 2011, A$AP Rocky’s “Bass,” The Weeknd’s “High For This,” and Hudson Mohawke’s “Thunder Bay” in succession. To say the least, I was enthralled. After a few cries of “Toki, will you marry me?” she hopped off stage and disappeared into the crowd.

We stayed for a little while after, catching some of the Gaslamp Killer’s set. As always, GLK gave no recognition that he was the “after the headliner” set and was playing in front of less people. Wyling out as always, Gaslamp dropped an esoteric “Niggas In Paris” mix before going into a number of funky bass tracks. Overall, easily one of the better nights at Low End in memory. From the start of Co.fee’s set to the time our legs gave out midway through GLK, there was not a dull moment, and the love shown for Toki showed just how much she means to the Low End crowd. Wish I could have documented the night, but thanks to the power of the interwebs, I’ve found a few videos. If you have any complaints/feedback on our first live review, hit us up in the comment box or shoot us an email.

Photo by Joel Lee

Low End Theory has been mentioned numerous times on this blog in its first few weeks of existence. Most outside of Los Angeles know it as the classic tribe album, but many within the City of Angels know it as one of the premier club nights on the West Coast. Helmed by Gaslamp Killer, DJ Nobody, Daddy Kev, D-Styles and Nocando, Low End occurs every Wednesday night at Lincoln Heights’s The Airliner. In 2011, Thom Yorke, Flying Lotus, James Blake and more laid down sets in front of a small and intimate audience. Along with major stars, Low End works incredibly hard to work in new talents, many of which (Ras G, Odd Future, The Glitch Mob) have blossomed into stars themselves. I have attended the night numerous times and have not been disappointed once. Each resident brings a unique, forward thinking set to the table every week, as Nocando frantically freestyles over the beats.

Whether you’re into hazy psych rock, or crunchy bass music, you’ll have a great time. The diverse crowd shares only a love of cannabis and an open mind for disparate musical stylings.  Tonight, Tokimonsta is celebrating her birthday with a special Low End appearance alongside Nutrik and Co.fee. The diminutive Toki is one of the most celebrated artists in the bass music world and has consistently released incredible music for several years. If you live in the LA-area, I definitely recommend you head to Lincoln Heights tonight. If you can’t make it, I’ll have some video/words up to give a little peak into the Low End world. Check out some of Toki’s best tunes below.

Stream/Download: Tokimonsta – “Alive”

Stream/Download: Shlohmo – “Hot Boxing The Cockpit” (Tokimonsta Remix)