As she steps up from under the plates of the LA underground and makes her way to her own brand new label Young Art, electronic hip-hop producer TOKiMONSTA experiences a shift in sound that can best be described as a mixed bag. Rising as a formidable contender in the plane of artsy hip-hop and Flying Lotus ethos, over the course of her career we’ve seen her expand on her collaborations to names like Suzi Analogue, Gavin Turek, and Kool Keith, and her once instrumentally-fueled songwriting has taken a shine to more club-centric soul. This gradual shift manifested most noticeably on last year’s Half Shadows, an album that, while still recalling her wonky, layered Midnight Menu days, took a dramatic shift toward vocally-driven pop, subjecting her frisky instrumentation to the backburners.
In the wake of Young Art we find Desiderium, a mini-LP that continues to push last year’s wholesome sound in a decidedly petite package. Unlike Half Shadows, every song here (with the exception of the intro) contains vocals in a prominent fashion, whether it is a guest appearance or a sample. This change of focus results in a breezier listen, taking the weight off of the bombastic build-ups and rich textures that made up her earlier work. It begins with “The Beginning”, as beginnings tend to begin with, a somewhat superfluous introductory track hyped up with majestic choirs and drum beats only to flatline at an 8-bit anticlimax – it’s like you can see the red carpet and trumpeters only the king is sitting on his float eating a pop tart and he’s like “oh, we’re here” – it just doesn’t really say “I’m TOKiMONSTA and this is what I do” or even “this is what the album is about”. “Drive” survives her electric urban sensibilities through Arama’s R&B mood lyrics, which pledges faith to the TOKiMONSTA template much like the excellent “Open Air”, a lush, throbbing beat that recruits Joyce Wrice for her smoky vocal delivery. But then, on “Realla”, her sedative, slow beat doesn’t quite stand side-by-side with the vocals in the same way, with the spotlight obviously on Anderson Paak and missing the chemistry present on the aforementioned features. When she’s at her purest is when she opts instead of wonky vocal samples as the foreground of the song. “Steal My Attention” utilizes ghostly, high-pitched vocals to coax in the ethereal fashion that has proven to chime excellence on Half Shadows, and elsewhere “Dusty Stars” falls back on her abstract palette from Midnight Menu to satisfying results.
“Steal My Attention”
“Drive ft Arama”