Pub date November 23, 2010

MUSIC Andreya Triana is a singer-songwriter from Southeast London, and Tokimonsta (Jennifer Lee) is a post hip-hop producer from Los Angeles’ South Bay. Triana delivers soulful jazz vocals, forged from a personal and fragile source, and Tokimonsta crafts warm synthetic R&B beats with a driving low-end. Triana’s music is sincere and confessional, Tokimonsta’s amplified and playful. But both artists adeptly recast sensuality in today’s electronic music, which is all too often submerged in a limited emotional sphere between two hedonistic impulses: aggro and more aggro.

I first heard Triana’s voice on “Tea Leaf Dancers,” one of Flying Lotus’ most memorable forays into computer soul from the Reset EP (Warp, 2007). What is most striking is how effortlessly Triana is able to inflect her full-bodied vocals into the lustful synth and bubbling bassline, expertly intertwining the emotional resonance of her lyrical skill with the song’s fissured digital architecture. In the past few years, Triana has steadily cropped up on singles and remixes from some of the most innovative producers in the U.K., from Natural Self to Mount Kimbie. And just this last year, she teamed up with Bonobo (Simon Green), who featured her vocals and songwriting on his new record, Black Sands (Ninja Tune), and produced lush orchestration for her lovely full-length debut, Lost Where I Belong (Ninja Tune).

On Black Sands, Triana breathes life into “Eyesdown,” floating confident verses over an uneasy two-step breakbeat and dreamy ambient swirls. She gathers tremendous strength while staring into the pain of loss: “Hands up/ I got my eyes facing down/ Slowly while the tears fall down/ Slow down.”

For Lost Where I Belong, Bonobo delved into a more minimal take on production with machines and live instruments, hinging together spheres of downtempo jazz and folk in a unique body of pastoral sound. Soft chord progressions twirl among wistful guitar riffs and horn blasts of tranquil joy. On the title track Triana traces the struggle of finding home, and in “A Town Called Obsolete,” she looks inward to find comfort in face of the most demanding other: oneself. The looseness of the song structure lets Triana take control of the narrative and unfold her talent as a visceral songwriter while simultaneously exerting the full-fledged powers of her pipes.

Tokimonsta also has been making noise the last couple of years. She gained shine from Mary Anne Hobbs’ late BBC Radio 1 “Experimental” show as well as the extended family of L.A.’s now infamous Low End Theory weekly. She’s also the only female beatsmith officially on the roster of Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder upstart. Tokimonsta’s style of sound can be sketched through a light study of her pseudonym: “toki” means bunny/rabbit in Korean while the “monsta” signifier has its own range of connotations on the cutesy side of evil. The name might bring to mind mutant anime toys, or for more adventurous-minded cartoon geeks, the prophetic rabbits haunting the lots of Watership Down.

You could say that Tokimonsta pulls from the psychedelic elements underpinning animation to infuse her music with a soulful, otherworldly quality. Her first EP from earlier this year, Cosmic Intoxication (Ramp), travels through the spacier realms of instrumental hip-hop. And her recent full-length, Midnight Menu (Art Union), begins where DJ Shadow’s “Midnight in a Perfect World” left off: in awe toward the abyss of the city’s night sky and fully enthralled with the prolonged indulgence and manipulation of emotion. Telephonic buzzes begin “Sa Mo Jung” just before a huge bassline kicks the engine toward a maximalist warp zone. The 8-bit haywire synth and rumbling sub-bass of “Chinese Smoothie” evoke the trailing luminescent tail of a dying comet. But some of the best Tokimonsta joints are remixes: an enchanting rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “If This World Were Mine” and a flip of Tweet’s “Call Me” into a glitched-out marvel of electric desire.


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