Review Summary: A summer album to be played at night; Jennifer Lee may be diminutive in size but her scope is massive
While trying to avoid the old adage of “don't judge a book by its cover”, it must be said that there's just something dreadfully unassuming about Jennifer Lee. While there is a joyous exuberance about her that magically fills her music with a delightful and playful spark, it astounds me just how funky she renders each cut, as if every track had been lifted wholesale from the glories of yesteryear and spliced together with magnetizing wonky effects and cosmic hip hop. There's a quiet yet powerful creative energy hidden behind those deliciously hip red glasses of hers, and at times its almost overwhelming just how far it reaches. Its no real surprise then just how remarkably quickly she was snatched up by Brainfeeder (so far the youngest and only female artist in their roster), and just how insistent the praise from the likes of Flylo and Mary Anne Hobbs has been. One only needs to look back at her delightfully ambiguous EP Cosmic Intoxication
to be reminded of all the promise on offer; even her very first tracks were a spectacle, her musical blueprint shaped like a maze, her beats abstract shapes that bounced and blurred. One could almost attribute those early listening experiences as something akin to love at first sight. Debuts don't come more hyped and anticipated as this, so it would seem only fitting that Jennifer has probably never heard of the word disappointing.
As sun kissed as this album is it belongs to the nocturnal sect. Bringing to mind any nondescript smoke filled jazz club, Midnight Menu
takes that concept and flips it on its head, just to see what might shake loose. While a part of that magnetizing L.A. sound that's managed to lure the likes of Mono/Poly and Daedelus and intrigued them with its hybrid of glitchy hip hop and limp-like beats, TOKiMONSTA seems to exist in her own gravity, trading in those commonplace absurdities for more ethereal melodies and decidedly ethnic overtones. She's borrowed heavily from the template, but almost purposely lost most of it in her own translation. Whereas Mono/Poly's effort relied on a suffocating and claustrophobic nature, Midnight Menu
is the opposite; its music that's been let loose to play, nurtured and been given the chance to grow and stretch its legs. Its retained that futuristic and cosmic sound that's become the standard for any affiliate of the Brainfeeder time travelers, but its much more concerned with digging its toes into the sand than entering into orbit. The most captivating aspect to Jennifer's music is the amount of character she imbues in her music, just how organic the binary has become. A track like 'Madness' works so deliriously well because of its almost reflective silent narrative, allowing the strings and distant guitars to penetrate the looped beats. 'Bready Soul' ups this by throwing in trumpets and finger clicking as the anchor, the remnants of her jazz club pilfering. She synthesizes her sound from varied and assorted genres like r&b, soul and funk to create this almost cathartic music that illuminates all it touches, like a dawn ride home through a sleepy skyscraper filled city, the sun just starting to work its way through the maze.
While the majority of the album is quite happy to move you from the comfort of a well loved chair, there's still a definitive uptempo nature to a handful of the tracks that almost demand a dancefloor audience. The breakthrough single 'Sa Mo Jung' and 'Gamble' move along like a whirlwind, with the latter splicing in breakbeat over teary eyed orchestral strains. And 'Death By Disco' might just live up to its name; its retro vibe juxtaposed with heavy tribal percussion works just as well as ear candy as I'm sure it will disrupting patrons wondering what the hell happened to that lazy jazz that was on a minute ago. They evoke a nighttime environment, as does the whole album, but the more uptempo tracks hold just as much weight with the sun in its final stretches, water lapping at your feet and the hangover a distant memory. Jennifer's music almost molds itself to the setting it finds itself in; as a kickstarter to festivities it sets the tone and raises the bar, and as a closer its reflective and welcoming, a background comedown that remains intricate and expertly planned. Despite her young age, Jennifer displays an effortless mastery of her craft, an expert touch in shaping moods and inexplicable and intangible emotions, something that belies her short career. TOKiMONSTA has done more than just live up to the hype and the hope, she has crafted an album to draw you in from whatever background, whatever setting and move you into her world, be it her own studio or nightclub somewhere, perched high up on a mountain or beach level with the sun reflecting through shelved bottles. A summer album for night time, Midnight Menu
is a superbly crafted debut album from one of the brightest young artists to emerge from the growing headphone hop scene of Los Angeles.