December 1, 2023

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Tomu DJ: Half Moon Bay Album Review

For the past few years, Tomu DJ has been dabbling in alchemy. A devotee of DJ Rashad’s pioneering footwork crew Teklife, the Bay Area producer drew attention to herself with a raft of nimble, amusingly titled heaters that winked at solipsistic playgrounds for the chronically online. It quickly became apparent she was equally skilled at writing gossamer synth melodies that suffuse the air like fragrance and betray no hint of screen glare. Could overlap exist between two forms that are, on paper, miles apart? Half Moon Bay, one of 2022’s most affecting electronic records, offers a resounding yes.

The road connecting juke to new age is rarely trodden, and “ambient footwork”—ludicrously paradoxical, given the Chicago dance style’s invocation to get your ass up and werk—scans like the kind of thing a random microgenre generator spits out. Tested blind, you might never guess that the same pair of hands behind the celestial two-chord sigh of “Sunsets,” a Half Moon Bay teaser released this spring, had also bashed out the hyperactive arcade strains of “banana” some two years prior.

Tomu DJ’s attempts to fuse these two approaches didn’t always gel, though last year’s debut full-length, FEMINISTA, was a fine statement of intent. On her sophomore LP, she cracks the code. Featuring input from footworkers DJ Manny and SUCIA!, as well as regular collaborator kimdollars1 and Tomu DJ’s own partner blessingsnore, Half Moon Bay strikes all the right notes, recalling well-loved contemporary records that manage to be hypnotic, curative, and a touch disquieting all in the same breath.

If you’re curious to hear those early experiments, unfortunately you’re too late. Tomu DJ recently scrubbed her socials and deleted swaths of her catalog off Bandcamp and streaming services—an eyebrow-raising move for a relative newcomer. Half Moon Bay, which she says she revised at least four times over the course of several years, is a purposeful hard reset. A near-fatal car accident in 2019 forced her to reckon with the aftershocks on FEMINISTA, and here she plumbs further depths, working through longstanding, deleterious mental-health issues.

Though the protective barrier of piss-taking is gone—songs named after mispronunciations of Dua Lipa have been replaced by ones that are fairly unambiguous in their quest for creative and spiritual rebirth—Half Moon Bay is far from a drudge, and not even particularly dark. Tomu DJ instead opts to confront roiling trauma with a spear of soft euphoria; pain commuted through snappy drums and bright synths, mixed loud and still raw.

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