Dillo Artist Profile: TOKiMONSTA

Photo sourced from Pitchfork

Photo sourced from Pitchfork

By Jordan Pytosh

As a woman of Korean descent born in California and an alum of the University of California, Irvine, Jennifer Lee sported the moniker TOKiMONSTA  as she became one of modern electronica’s most prominent composers. Her long line of work begins with her well known 2010 debut album Midnight Menu. The album's fresh take on the electronica genre garnered acclaim, helped boost her popularity, and won her co-signs from various music publications. Since then, she put out 2013’s Half Shadows, 2014’s Desiderium, and most recently, 2017’s Lune Rouge. Her latest album followed a hiatus she took after developing a rare condition called moyamoya, which that forced her to relearn music completely. In addition to her solo work, she also started her own label called Young Art Records, through which she has released her own material, as well as the work of CRi and Gavin Turek. In preparation for TOKiMONSTA’s Dillo Day performance, here are five highlights from her impressive catalogue:


1. The World Is Ours

When the average listener is thrust into TOKiMONSTA’s well-known debut single, it is hard not to notice how smoothly Lee's arrangement glides. Its delicate guitar sample, taken from Wes Montgomery’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” makes for an atmospheric backdrop to which Lee adds more and more musical layers as the song develops. The track's hard-hitting drums add depth to its idyllic instrumentation, complementing the low notes of the guitar sample. Another notable aspect of "The World Is Ours" is the use of a Marvin Gaye vocal sample to introduce the track's theme of codependency. Gaye's voice pairs nicely with the track's chill vibe as it lures us in and ensures us of a sweet escape.


2. Sa Mo Jung

Upon its 2010 release, the album Midnight Menu was TOKiMONSTA’s most prominent step towards the stylistically intricate electronica that has come to define her work. As an example, “Sa Mo Jung,” one of the record's highlights, fuses unconventionally patterned drums with a diverse and dynamic set of sounds. The track's emotional synth backdrop, mixed with knocking hip hop beat drum patterns, makes for a riveting swirl of sonic sensations that build toward an emotional guitar sequence midway through. The lush tones and ethereal waves of this sequence demonstrate Lee's compositional maturity; she manages to construct her tracks with an acute attention to detail while still maintaining the same atmosphere as before.


3. Lovely Soul 

As the outro to Midnight Menu, “Lovely Soul” builds upon a solitary synth line that fluidly moves through the composition. The song’s simple construction is reminiscent of the minimalist electronica of the 1980’s. The beginning, full of isolated synths and occasional jabs, is laid back and emotional. This is later compounded with simple 1-2 drum and bass patterns that punctuate this backdrop throughout the rest of the song. Around the 1:14 mark, the song breaks into a sublime musical passage that reminds the listener of the soundtrack to a sad film, especially when the vocals become more prominent later on. These vocal fragments along with later synthetic rhythms make this song a bittersweet outro to TOKiMONSTA's excellent debut album - beautiful, yet slightly tragic.


4. Sweet Williams

The vibe of “Sweet Williams” is definitely a lot more mellow than much of TOKiMONSTA's other material. In fact, the track is an immersive sensory dive into a beautifully crafted electronic echo chamber. Interestingly, the song's title refers to a particularly aesthetically pleasing flower variety, which is a fitting metaphor for the way in which Lee grows and cultivates  the track's sonic world into the beautiful recording that results. The vocals, subdued and filtered, take a backseat to the expansive soundscape evoked by TOKiMONSTA's sprawling instrumentation. Finally, after four minutes of smooth atmospheric beauty, the song’s ending brings the listener back to reality.


5. Rose’s Thorn

Inspired by Lee’s struggle with moyamoya, her fourth album, Lune Rouge is full powerful emotional moments. “Rose’s Thorn,” the album’s highlight, is a beautifully constructed and bittersweet track. Its simplicity captures a sense of fragility while maintaining a smooth R&B/electronica flavor, at times even evoking the laid back atmosphere of classic yacht rock.  The song stays true to TOKiMONSTA's stylistic roots while also demonstrating her artistic growth, and its sense of resonating calm is both relaxing and intoxicating.

MusicSteven Norwalk