As TOKiMONSTA, California producer Jennifer Lee’s charted a fascinating career over the past seven years, and Lune Rouge is her exhilarating next step. The third proper long-player from TOKiMONSTA is both a logical progression of her sound and a surprising left turn from an artist that rarely ceases to surprise. A smoky, patient, and altogether lovely collection, Lune Rouge mixes modern sensibilities with old-school sounds to make for a heady brew of moonlit music.
Lune Rouge is the culmination of all the experiences I’ve encountered so far,” Lee explains the album’s genesis, which she started work on in late 2015 before being diagnosed with a rare neurovascular condition called Moyamoya. A year later, after two major brain surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, Lune Rouge
was finished. “During its creation, I faced some of the most difficult and uplifting moments of my life. Seeing myself at the edge of my own mortality and how I chose to move past is a story told in this album.”
Lee’s work as TOKiMONSTA gained widespread recognition from the very start: her 2010 debut album, Midnight Menu, saw release on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint and cemented her reputation as a formidable presence of the then-emerging West Coast beat scene. 2011’s Brainfeeder release Creature Dreams EP expanded on Midnight Menu’s palette with successful forays into vocal-led cuts thanks to the presence of regular collaborator Gavin Turek; the 2013 LP and Ultra Music debut Half Shadows found Lee exploring darker shades of her sound with guests such as Kool Keith and MNDR in tow.
Following Half Shadows’ release, Lee collaborated with artists like Jessie Ware, Anderson .Paak, and Kelly Rowland, while also putting out several records on her own Young Art Records imprint that served as practical blueprints for the dusky environs of Lune Rouge. Mini-albums Desiderium from 2014 and last year’s FOVERE elegantly deployed pitch-shifted vocal samples to add new textures to the TOKiMONSTA sound, and in 2015 she added her capable touch to Turek’s own mini-album, You’re Invited. All these roads lead to Lune Rouge, a lush work that stands as the summation of what she’s been cooking up since Half Shadows.
TOKiMONSTA’s sound has always kept one foot in the pop stratosphere, but
Lune Rouge finds her diving in with glee. Her effervescent beats serve as the perfect framework for these gorgeous songs: Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna weaves in and out of water-droplet tones and a stuttering chipmunk’d sample on lead single “Don’t Call Me.” “I’m super grateful to have created a song with Yuna,” Lee gushes. “I was a fan of hers for a while, so I have to shout out the world wide web for allowing two people on different continents the ability to create together. The message of the track is really more than unwanted phone calls, but the idea of people deciding to show up only when they need you.”
Elsewhere, the MNDR-featuring “We Love” serves up perfect summer vibes with aquatic synth stabs and an instantly infectious chorus. Featuring a searing vocal take from Selah Sue, “I Wish I Could” fuses the clean-sounding classicism of contemporaries like Rhye with a buzzing throb that embodies the modern cool of contemporary R&B—and “No Way,” with features from Isaiah Rashad, Joey Purrp, and Ambre, sounds lovingly ripped from the dusty glory days of 90s hip-hop.
“I chose the title Lune Rouge, which translates to ‘red moon’, because I think people perceive it to hold ominous weight,” Lee explains her thinking behind the album’s title. “However, a red moon is rare and pretty awesome event from a scientific perspective and, to me, means significant change.” And Lune Rouge is the latest change in her prismatic career—a testament to the healing powers of art in the face of insurmountable difficulty.