For a few years, Tomu DJ has been touching alchemy. A follower of DJ Rashad’s pioneering footwork team Teklife, the Bay Area producer drew attention to herself with a series of nimble radiators with fun titles that nodded to solipsistic playgrounds for online columnists. It quickly became apparent that she was just as good at writing fine synth melodies that permeate the air like perfume and betray no reflections from the screen. Could an overlap exist between two forms that are, on paper, miles apart? Half Moon Bayone of the most touching electronic recordings of 2022, delivers a resounding yes.
The juke-to-new-age road is seldom traveled, and “ambient footwork” – ridiculously paradoxical, given the invocation of Chicago dance style to get your ass up and work-scans like the kind of thing a random microgenre generator spits out. Blind-tested, you might never guess the same pair of hands behind the two-chord celestial sigh of “Sunsets,” a Half Moon Bay teaser released this spring, also denounced the hyperactive arcade strains of “banana” some two years ago.
Tomu DJ’s attempts to merge these two approaches have not always been successful, although last year’s debut album, FEMINIST, was a nice statement of intent. On her second album, she cracks the code. With contributions from footworkers DJ Manny and SUCIA!, as well as regular collaborator kimdollars1 and Tomu DJ’s own partner blesssnore, Half Moon Bay hits all the right notes, reminiscent of beloved contemporary records that manage to be hypnotic, healing and a bit ominous in the same breath.
If you are curious to hear these first experiences, it is unfortunately too late. Tomu DJ recently cleaned up his social media and removed entire swathes of his catalog from Bandcamp and streaming services – a raise eyebrow-raising move for a newcomer. Half Moon Bay, which it says it has revised at least four times over several years, is a deliberate hard reset. A near-fatal car accident in 2019 forced her to reckon with the aftershocks on FEMINISTand here she dives even deeper, working through long years, deleterious mental health problems.
Although the protective barrier of piss has disappeared – songs named after Dua Lipa’s mispronunciations have been replaced with ones that are fairly clear in their quest for creative and spiritual rebirth –Half Moon Bay is far from a hangman, and not even particularly dark. Tomu DJ instead chooses to confront earth-shattering trauma with a spear of sweet euphoria; the pain switched through catchy drums and bright synths, mixed hard and always raw.