- With only echoes of the club, Tomu DJ's debut is an intimate portrait of pain with hints of hopefulness.
- Last month, Tomu DJ tweeted out a screenshot of an Apple Music playlist that had placed her track "CONFUNDIA" alongside Jana Rush's "Moanin.'" On paper, it's easy to see how the algorithm lumped the two together. Both producers have styles forged in the fires of footwork and juke, and both Tomu DJ's FEMINISTA and Rush's Painful Enlightenment were written in the wake of immense personal pain. But that's where the similarities end. Rush's anguish manifests itself across an almost violent saxophone line that distorts all that glitters; "CONFUNDIA" is a gentle meditation where a dembow rhythm staggers under whispering minor key melodies. And it's this soft-spoken sense of loss that defines Tomu DJ's debut LP. The California producer turns out a record written in the ongoing aftermath of a car crash that highlights the ways that dance music can create meditative spaces for processing grief in all of its ennui.
There's a clear shift in Tomu's approach here. Her previous records were fluorescent dance music, bounding across techno, house and footwork rhythms. On this record there are still pockets of brightness, but they feel more fragile and intimate. The gentle touch of the guitar chords and the slowed roll of the kick drums on opener "Dula Peep" is a good barometer for this change in tone. Even when the dancehall beat unfurls, its upswing doesn't feel crafted for a club soundsystem as much as it sounds like shutting your eyes and listening to your heartbeat on the way home.
These flickers of the dance floor are continually overcast on FEMINISTA, even as they carry the afterglow of the party. "Rock69" is close to the type of downtempo house you might find on a Mood Hut or Rhythm Section release with its stoned and hazy melody and piano pitter-patter, but the drums are so light they feel like they might disappear at any moment. Likewise "Exposed Nerve" has a footwork tempo made delicate by the wispiness of the synth vibrato.
But alongside all of these shades of blue, there is a sense of humor to Tomu's music—the lead track, after all, is named after this piece of goofy pop culture trivia. The jungle break on "What's Next" gives way to '80s synth pop cheese and a series of ascending compressed chords that sound like Burial being asked to close Tomorrowland's main stage. This is par for the course for a producer who has released records with titles including "Second Dose" and "Goes To Bossa During Covid Once."
But as much as Tomu cloaks her music with these moments of levity, this record is also exceptionally vulnerable, a bit like the album equivalent of adding "lol" to an otherwise profound message. The most moving moments on the album are when she fully trades irony for sincerity. We hear this in the hints of a smile from the xylophone that emerges in the reverb poached "Schizoaffective" and the dewy-eyed wonder in the glittering melody and drum rolls of "Cali/Florida." These are two places where we get to see a raw picture of Tomu DJ as a producer and the effect is, simply, stunning.
01. Dula Peep
04. Exposed Nerve
05. Pretty Stuff
07. Cali / Florida
08. What's Next