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April 10, 2013

Jennifer Lee, the LA-born producer and DJ known as TOKiMONSTA, cuts a distinct figure among her city's beat scene. In 2010, LA Weekly named her their number one "Hottest LA Lady DJ," calling TOKiMONSTA "the First Lady of Brainfeeder," referring to Flying Lotus' label, who would release her Creature Dreams EP the next year. (She was also the only lady of Brainfeeder.) Among textural and wonky synth work, she has released songs like "Little Pleasures," a standout from Creature Dreams that has been uploaded to YouTube by an account called goodmusicforthesoul, whose username sums up the track's soothing neo-soul lean, with dusty vocals by Gavin Turek. On the other side of the electronic music spectrum, in 2012 she toured alongside big-timers Skrillex and Diplo. With all that in mind, her new album Half Shadows, out this week via Ultra, is an interesting triangulation of the three pillars of TOKiMONSTA: dense Brainfeeder-style beat work, signposts of ’90s hip-hop and soul, and a populist club sensibility.

Her release party last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg emphasized the latter of those. Live, she preferred an aggressively sharp-snared, heavily layered style of trap music that reminded me of nothing so much as Girl Talk, with a keener understanding of bass. In one especially peppy section, over the course of one minute she sped up and looped the strings to "Forgot About Dre," smashed in a memorably hefty kick/snare ("Fix Up Look Sharp," or something like it) and the synth line from Grandmaster Flash's "The Message," then cut it all and threw on "The Percolator" with looped vocals from Azealia Banks' "212." It was generic, mainstream party music and the crowd loved it—their positive reception proof that sticking to the classics was an astute decision.

TOKiMONSTA smiles a lot onstage and half-mouths a few words of each song. When she drops the bass, which is often, she also drops her head to shake her long, middle-parted hair—but then almost immediately after, since her mixing pace is so fast, she requires use of her eyes again and has to tuck her locks behind her ears. The night's finest moments, though, were when she let a single, special track play long, giving her time to pause. Late in the night, she played the best remix of Miguel's "Adorn" I've ever heard, all angelic synths and—compared to the manic moments of her set—a tidy, refined drum pattern. Like the strongest electronic music, it was notably without subgenre, existing somewhere in between it all. "I made this just for you guys," she said.